Earlier this year, the CEO of Scholastic Inc., M. Richard Robinson Jr., unexpectedly died leaving his family and many others shocked about his succession plans.
Scholastic Inc. is the publishing house behind many well-loved children’s books, including The Magic School Bus, Goosebumps, and Captain Underpants. It also published the cult-classics Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, contributing to the $1.2 billion company valuation.
Scholastic Inc. was founded by Mr. Robinson’s father and so naturally his two sons, John, 34, and Maurice, 25, expected to inherit the family business. However, they must have been surprised when the contents of their late father’s Will were eventually revealed.
Mr. Robinson left all of his personal possessions and control of Scholastic Inc. to Iole Lucchese, the company’s chief strategy officer.
Having never discussed testamentary intentions, the sons were left with virtually nothing, not even an explanation. Both sons were perplexed upon the revelation, not being able to understand why their father made the decision to cut them out of his Will, especially since they had actively been in each others’ lives.
Their mother and Mr. Robinson’s ex-wife, Helen Benham, was also disappointed, as she had worked for Scholastic Inc. for over 30 years and had rekindled an amicable relationship with Mr. Robinson prior to his death. Mr. Robinson had allegedly told Ms. Benham, “you care more about Scholastic than I do” on several occasions, so she must not have been prepared for the cold shoulder she received upon his death.
While it may be a difficult pill for Mr. Robinson’s family to swallow, given that the American succession laws will be applied, it is difficult to know how the lack of provisions made for his family will be treated. In Ontario, however, even if we may expect parents to leave behind something for their children, our succession laws do not require a parent to do so.
In Ontario, there is a strong emphasis on testamentary freedom and in many cases, therefore, individuals are not subject to any legal and moral obligation to provide for their family if they do not wish to. This was made clear in Verch Estate v. Weckwerth, where the Ontario Court of Appeal found that independent adult children who are excluded from their parents’ Will do not necessarily have grounds to make a moral claim against the estate. Courts typically only intervene when dependant spouses or children who were being supported prior to the death demonstrate that a testator failed to make adequate provision for their continued support after death. As a result, there is therefore no right of inheritance in Ontario.
While John and Maurice may plan to pursue legal action, it remains to be seen whether they will be successful or not.
Thanks for reading,
Ian Hull & Ekroop Sekhon
Laurie Kilmartin, comedian and author of Sh*tty Mom, has written a funny, lovingly irreverent guide to dealing with the loss of a loved one: Dead People Suck: A Guide for Survivors of the Newly Departed.
Kilmartin’s father died in 2014. Kilmartin live-tweeted through the ordeal. Later, she realized that people are terribly uncomfortable with and unprepared for dealing with the death of those closest to them, so she wrote the Guide.
In it, she recounts the difficulties of dealing with death, and shines a light on the humour that can be found in such a dark time. “I’m a comedy writer, so I sort of manage my emotions by organizing them into jokes – which is terrible for relationships, but it’s great for your Twitter feed.”
Kilmartin recalls telling her son that his grandfather is dying. Her son’s response: “What about his iPad?”.
Kilmartin’s father died on the night of the Oscars. “He laughed as much in death as he ever had in life at an Oscars monologue.”
The book includes chapters entitled:
- “Undo Years of Bad Parenting with the Gift of the Unexpected Check”;
- “The Obituary: A Bad Time for Writer’s Block”;
- “When the Wrong Parent Dies First”;
- “Your Parent Died before You Got to the Hospital, AKA One Final Attempt to Make You Feel Guilty”;
- “Atheists: Prepare to Have Your Unfaith Tested”;
- “The Cemetery: Who Will Ignore Your Mother’s Grave When You’re Gone?”;
- “The Only People Who Get Truly Upset When an 83-Year-Old Dies Are 82 Year-Olds; and
- “’I’m Sorry for Your Loss’; The Aloha of Condolences”;
amongst many others.
Listen to Kilmartin’s interview with CBC’s Brent Bambury here.
Thank you for reading.