The queen's estate


POSTED: Monday, May 18, 2009


Curtis Iaukea, Liliuokalani's business manager, notes that after her estate planning documents had been properly signed and witnessed on Nov. 2, 1909, and the lawyers, witnesses, and notary public had departed, Liliuokalani, Iaukea, and (ward John) Aimoku suddenly realized that an important detail had not been discussed:

The queen “;made the remark, 'I hope they'll not put the deed of record until I'm gone. If Prince Kuhio knew that I have left this home to you,' addressing Aimoku, 'and all of my personal relics and family mementos to the Bishop Museum, he would be huhu ... and may not lift a hand to help me in my claims before Congress.'

“;I (Iaukea) asked if I might run down to (lawyer and trustee) W.O. Smith's office and acquaint him of her wishes. 'I wish you would,' she replied, 'it will relieve me of much anxiety.' I then hurried to Mr. Smith's office only to find that the deed of trust was on its way to the record office, Mr. Smith feeling that the sooner that was done, the better.

“;On returning and informing the queen that my errand was a fruitless one, she hung her head down and for a few moments said nothing. As I bowed myself out of the room, she looked up and said, 'I suppose I'll have to face the music when the prince meets me in San Francisco.'

“;'Keep a stiff upper lip,' I (Iaukea) said jokingly. 'It will all come out in the wash.' She laughed, as I left her.

“;The next morning the local papers came out with the announcement in blaring headlines: 'LILIUOKALANI DISPOSES OF ESTATE — Disposes her Property in Trust to Governor Cleghorn, W.O. Smith and C.P. Iaukea — Aimoku is to get Washington Place — Children's Orphanage to be Built.'”;

As Liliuokalani had feared, trouble was indeed waiting for her in San Francisco. Here, again, is Iaukea's account:

“;No sooner had (Kuhio and his party) joined the queen in San Francisco when trouble began to brew. And on reaching Washington, D.C., it took the form of a deed of revocation, which the queen was induced to ascribe her name to, on the plea and pretext (as the queen herself informed her trustees upon her return to Honolulu) that the deeding away of her property and estate would militate against her claim before the Congress.”;

Lawyers claiming to have been authorized by Liliuokalani filed a lawsuit contesting the trust. They did this while she and Kuhio were still in Washington, D.C. Here is how it would later be described by Kuhio's lawyers:

A “;suit was filed on Feb. 19, 1910, in the Circuit Court ... alleging that the grantor (Liliuokalani), in executing the deed of trust, did so without a full and sufficient knowledge or understanding of the terms, provision and effect thereof, and under a mistaken belief as to the character of the same ...”;

Shortly after returning to Hawaii, however, the queen conferred with the QLT trustees and then withdrew the lawsuit, republished her will, and reaffirmed the trust. Iaukea writes that this brought to a close “;the first attempt on the part of the contestants to wrest control and management of the queen's estate from the hands of her trustees.”;

As indicated in lawyer Abram S. Humphreys' notes, this was not the last such attempt.

“;The second ... came when, on November 30, 1915, a suit was instituted and filed in the Circuit Court, in the name of Liliuokalani by Jonah Kuhio Kalanianaole ... against (the QLT trustees) for the purpose of obtaining a cancellation and annulment of the trust deed of December 2, 1909, upon the ground and claim that the said deed was executed by Liliuokalani as a result of a conspiracy on the part of (Iaukea and Aimoku) and that the same was executed by her while she was incompetent to do so, and as a result of undue influence ... “;

News of the lawsuit filled the headlines of Honolulu's two daily papers, The Pacific Commercial Advertiser and The Honolulu Star-Bulletin:

“;KUHIO INSTITUTES SUIT TO BREAK TRUST WHICH CONTROLS PROPERTY OF QUEEN LILIUOKALANI; Prince and Heir Presumptive to Throne of Hawaii, On Behalf of Her Majesty and Himself, Makes Some Sensational Charges Against Trustees Iaukea and Dominis; CONSPIRACY IS ALLEGED. Complaint in Suit to Break Trust for Queen Liliuokalani Is Teeming With Romance of Hawaiian Royalty.

“;QUEEN OPPOSED TO KUHIO'S SUIT, INSISTS IAUKEA; Managing Trustee of Liliuokalani's Estate Says Former Ruler Is Satisfied; PRINCE STARTS FIGHT WITHOUT HER CONSENT; Wants Trust Deed Set Aside on Grounds She Was Not of Strong Mind When Signing.”;

Kuhio claimed to have standing to bring the action both in his own right as the queen's heir and as her “;next friend”; (a person who acts on behalf of an allegedly incompetent person). The queen, however, did not feel at all that she was incompetent and told her lawyer so in no uncertain terms. Here is an excerpt from Humphreys' statement in the 1915 action:

“;I called to see the queen at Washington Place and was received by her alone. After making some respectful inquiries after her health, I then expressed regret that she should be annoyed by the suit. And she said: 'Yes, yes, it is too bad. I was at peace with all the world.' I then asked her if she was satisfied with (having her property held in trust and managed by her trustees). She said she was entirely satisfied with it; that it was just what she wanted; that all of the cares and burdens and worries of her business had been taken off her hands, and (that she was) perfectly content with the situation.

“;'The bone of contention,' that was her precise language, 'the bone of contention seems to be this place (Washington Place) and the Waikiki place (Kealohilani). These little boys, Aimoku and (Kaipo), I have reared and educated, and I have learned to love them as though they were my own. So is it to be wondered at, then, that I should wish to provide handsomely for them?' And here she stated ... 'Now, do I talk like an insane person?'

“;I replied, 'You don't, your Majesty.' She then said, 'My brother Kalakaua took all of the lands which belonged to our mother, and I made no fuss about it. When Kalakaua died those lands and all of his other property went to his widow Kapiolani. Kapiolani gave all of that property to Prince Cupid (Kuhio Kalanianaole) and his brother Prince David (Kawananakoa). They are amply provided for.' Again, 'Now do I talk like a crazy person?'”;

Acting under authority of the queen's power of attorney, Iaukea engaged the services of a former justice of the Territorial Supreme Court, Antonio Perry, to represent Liliuokalani in Kuhio's lawsuit. Perry would prove to be an exceptionally strong and effective advocate for his client, the queen.


The controversy heated up when the presiding judge appointed a guardian ad litem for the queen, Lorrin Andrews, who viewed the matter differently from Perry. In fact, their positions could not have been more different: the answer that Perry prepared on behalf of the queen denied all of Kuhio's allegations, and the one Andrews submitted admitted each and every one of them.

Andrews supposedly reached his conclusions (even regarding the queen's competency when she signed the trust document more than six years earlier in 1909) based on a single meeting with Liliuokalani in February 1916, which raises questions about his objectivity. Andrews' partial report to the Circuit Court describes the encounter:

“;Accompanied by Iaukea, I ... was received by the queen. ... Iaukea then asked me whether I wished to talk with said queen privately ... Before I answered, the queen stated that she wished either Iaukea, or his wife, to be present, as they understood all her affairs and she did not wish to speak except in their presence. I then asked said queen if she knew of the suit which Kalanianaole was bringing to set aside the trust deed entered into by herself in the year 1909, and she replied that she did not know of any such suit and appealed to said Iaukea, who informed her that such a suit had been brought. I then explained to her briefly the outline of the suit brought by Kalanianaole (Kuhio) ... and asked whether he appeared for her at her request, or whether Judge Perry was her attorney.

“;She stated that she had not hired or retained said Perry and knew nothing about it; that Mr. Iaukea must have attended to these matters, as she left all such matters to him. ... She answered that ... in regard to the trust deed, she left it all to W.O. Smith, who was a good man and a trustee of the Bishop Estate, and that she was perfectly satisfied with the present trustees.

“;She further stated that she made the trust deed at the suggestion of W.O. Smith so as to have no further bother with regard to her affairs; that she was old and did not wish to be longer bothered with them. She stated that if I wanted to talk about the trust deed, or anything connected therewith, to talk with Mr. Iaukea, as she left everything upon his shoulders ...”;

The litigation dragged on for several more years. The transcripts from the hearings are fascinating and sometimes entertaining (for example, at one point several lions of Hawaii's bar accuse each other of “;babyish”; behavior). The Territorial Supreme Court reversed several key lower-court rulings, thereby weakening Kuhio's position considerably.

The matter ended abruptly on June 21, 1918, however, when the parties reached an out-of-court settlement: In exchange for dropping his claims to the queen's estate, Kuhio took fee simple ownership of Kealohilani, the trustees paid all of Kuhio's legal fees, and the trustees agreed to sell Washington Place to the Territorial government.

This ended Kuhio's lawsuit, but Liliuokalani's estate was far from settled.

Because of numerous other actions (including competing genealogists, a fake will, and a dramatic confession by a would-be witness who later claimed to have been told by God in a dream the night before to start telling the truth), Liliuokalani's will wasn't admitted to probate until 1923, nearly six years after her death.

The queen's sole surviving executor, Curtis Iaukea, submitted a final accounting one year later: the bequests to Kaipo and Aimoku lapsed because they failed to survive the queen; contingent bequests to Kuhio and the children of his brother, David Kawananakoa, lapsed because Liliuokalani never received compensation from the United States government with respect to the former crown lands; Bishop Museum received the queen's personal property that was left after the public auction of many items in order to pay attorneys' fees; and the QLT received the remaining cash balance of $15,152.86.

The QLT ended up with a corpus worth about $200,000 at the time, and today the QLT has a value of nearly $700 million. In 2008, various programs of the QLT's Queen Liliuokalani Children's Center directly affected approximately 10,000 orphan and destitute children. Through various collaborations, the QLT also benefited another 50,000 at-risk youths.


Shortly before dying, the queen shared this thought with her hanai daughter:

“;The way to lose any earthly kingdom is to be inflexible, intolerant, and prejudicial. Another way is to be too flexible, tolerant of too many wrongs, and without judgment at all. It is a razor's edge. It is the width of a blade of pili grass.”;

Only Liliuokalani could know whether, in the end, she managed to walk that razor's edge in regard to the worldly goods she left behind. But the story of her last legal acts ought to be instructive to any lawyer — and any next of kin.


Senior U.S. District Judge Sam King, Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee Walter Heen and UH law professor Randall Roth are working on a book on this subject. They also co-authored the “;Broken Trust”; essay that launched reforms at Kamehameha Schools/Bishop Estate.