CHARLOTTE — The sons and estate of a Charlotte real estate developer are suing his company over nearly $200 million in assets he was trying to redirect when he died.
The Charlotte Observer reports (http://bit.ly/H0nJL2 ) the assets of the late Henry Faison are in dispute because Faison tried to update his will so that a large portion of his wealth would go to a charitable foundation named after his dog, rather than to his company.
Faison didn’t sign the legal documents making it official before his death in November at 78.
The company has yet to file a full response to the lawsuit, but lawyers for Faison’s sons and estate say in legal papers that the company is balking at handing over the assets.
Legal experts say lawsuits involving unsigned wills aren’t common in North Carolina. The law generally says a written will isn’t valid unless it is either handwritten by the decedent or is signed by that person in the presence of two competent witnesses.
“It looks like it would do an end run around the statutory requirements” for North Carolina wills, said Maria Lynch, a Raleigh attorney and board-certified specialist in estate planning and probate law. “If it succeeds, I would certainly say it would break some new ground in North Carolina.”
Faison was one of Charlotte’s most prolific real estate developers. His firm, Faison Enterprises Inc., built Eastland and Northlake malls, handled the $100 million expansion of SouthPark mall, and built One Independence Center uptown. It handled dozens of other shopping centers and apartment complexes, as well as office and industrial parks.
In his June 2000 will, Faison left what remained of his estate after taxes, specific gifts and other costs to his company. But he changed his mind and in summer 2012 decided to leave much of his personal wealth — including more than $100 million in loans that the lawsuit says the company owed him — to a charitable trust he planned to name after his dog, a Brittany named Skeebo.
The move would avoid about $110 million in federal estate taxes and allows the foundation to support conservative causes, according to the lawsuit.
But the suit says Faison died just before he could sign the will or the documents creating the trust.
Now Jay and Lane Faison, co-executors of the estate, are asking the courts to finish creating the foundation and force the firm their father founded in 1988 to hand over the assets.
The company, now run by a board that Henry Faison appointed, is suggesting that it isn’t sure it should surrender the assets.
“Everyone agrees that Mr. Faison was working on revising his will before he died unexpectedly last year,” the company said in a written statement issued through its lawyer, Douglas Ey. “But he didn’t finish the process, and the will that he signed in 2000 is his estate plan.”