High court settles Damon Estate distribution
The state Supreme Court has ruled that the Estate of Samuel Mills Damon should be split equally between the branches started by his two sons, ending a decade-long dispute over how to distribute proceeds of the $900 million trust.
The decision, made public yesterday, upheld a 2002 Circuit Court ruling.
Michael Haig, one of Damon's 20 great-grandchildren, had been arguing the trust's proceeds should be divided "in equal shares amongst those who were surviving," rather than "divided in half," said his Honolulu attorney, Carroll Taylor. In court, Taylor argued that the Damon will was unclear.
"Under their interpretation some great-great-grandchildren take twice as much as some great-grandchildren" because there are more descendants on one side of the family. "If Sam Damon were writing this will today, that's probably not what he would have written."
But the court said: "Damon's income distribution provision essentially provided that, after the death of Damon's widow, income is to be distributed equally ... between the two branches of Damon's descendants."
Taylor was not sure how much each beneficiary would get under the Supreme Court ruling. At issue are the proceeds of the estate's assets, last estimated at about $389 million. He said money has been set aside in anticipation of the ruling and will likely be distributed soon.
In late 2004, after the death of Damon's last grandchild, the Damon Estate started distributing about $500 million in uncontested assets to beneficiaries.
The chief executive officer of the estate did not return a call last night.
Set to get the biggest chunk -- one-eighth -- of the estate's assets are Damon's great-granddaughters, Sharon and Madeleine Wright of California.
Maui resident Sid Damon, Sharon's son, said yesterday that there has been little talk of the court case among family members. "I'm just along for the ride," he said. "I'm just a beneficiary. I'm being represented."
Samuel Mills Damon headed what is now known as First Hawaiian Bank.
His estate was founded by his will in 1924. It used to be one of the state's largest private landowners, holding title to more than 121,000 acres in the islands, but much of the land has been sold off in recent years.
This is not the first time the estate has gone to the Supreme Court. In 1994 the state's highest court ruled that the estate would terminate after the death of Damon's last grandchild. That happened two years ago, but the estate has remained in place as beneficiaries waited for yesterday's ruling.