Battle of wills: multi-million dollar estate settled

Second will disinherited three ­charities, put estate into foundation

By Phillip Bantz
BridgeTower Media Newswires

COLUMBIA, SC — A sprawling and complex case centered on the validity of the final wishes of a wealthy Hilton Head Island heiress has finally reached an end with a series of large settlements in the Carolinas.

Eleanor Breedlove’s death at the age of 103 in May 2014 touched off a legal battle that centered on the validity of a will she executed in 2004 versus the enforceability of another will that was prepared in 2005.

The first will left the bulk of her estate to three charities: Southeastern Guide Dogs, Boys and Girls Clubs of the Lowcountry and Volunteers in Medicine Clinic.

But her 2005 will, which was executed after the court appointed a conservator and guardian to Breedlove’s estate in an order which found that she suffered from dementia and “appears to be easily subjected to the will of others,” disinherited the charities and poured her entire estate into the Breedlove Foundation. The estate’s guardian, An Grosshuesch, appointed herself to serve on the foundation’s board.

In its petition asking the court to enforce the 2004 estate plan, Southeastern Guide Dogs argued that under the court’s prior order appointing her as guardian of the estate, Grosshuesch did not have the right to change a beneficiary designation without court approval, which she did not obtain.

Grosshuesch did not respond to an interview request. She was appointed as guardian of the $20 million estate after former Bluffton police officer Lisa Cramer was arrested for swindling millions from Breedlove. Cramer entered an Alford plea in 2004 on charges of exploiting a vulnerable adult.

“For many years, people took advantage of Eleanor Breedlove. They used Ms. Breedlove to achieve their own ends and enrich themselves,” Ashley Twombley of Twenge + Twombley in Beaufort wrote in a brief filed in the case. He and an attorney in his office, Jennifer Campbell, represented a group of heirs to a separate trust that Breedlove’s father, George Anderson, created for Breedlove, her sister and their mother.

“The Breedlove case brought into focus the type of complicated issues that can arise after the probate court appoints a guardian and conservator for an incapacitated person, particularly when the incapacitated person attempts to make changes to their estate plan,” Twombley wrote in an email.

The attorney who prepared the wills in question, Michael Jordan of the McNair Law Firm in Hilton Head, declined to discuss the case.

In March, a settlement was reached in North Carolina involving the Anderson trust — the deal distributed nearly $4 million to the Anderson heirs. But the Breedlove Foundation will net more than $12 million as part of the settlements with the Anderson trust and the Breedlove estate, according to the foundation’s attorney, Richard Rosen of Rosen Hagood in Charleston.

“Far and away the settlement was in the best interest of the foundation,” he said. “Two-thirds of the available funds will go to the foundation.”

The settlements in South Carolina involving the Breedlove estate distributed $900,000 to Southeastern Guide Dogs and $80,000 each to the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Lowcountry and Volunteers in Medicine Clinic.

The Guide Dog charity reached its settlement days after the Anderson trust settlement and on the eve of trial, while the other two charities settled before the deal was reached in North Carolina.

Rosen suggested that the charities would continue to receive donations from the Breedlove Foundation. He also asserted that Grosshuesch did not coerce Breedlove to alter her 2004 estate plan.

“Utter nonsense,” he said. “There was never any manipulation of Mrs. Breedlove’s will.”