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Sun 15 Nov 2009 04:00 AM

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Oilman’s heirs fight

Curry Glassell, the oilman's 52-year-old daughter, is fighting to keep the fortune in the family through a probate battle.

Oilman’s heirs fight
The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston is a huge beneficiary of Texas oil baron Alfred C Glassell Jr’s fortune.
Oilman’s heirs fight
Billionaire investment adviser Fayez Sarofim who helped manage Alfred Glassell Jr’s stock portfolio from his oil business, is also scheduled to testify.

Curry glassell, the oilman's 52-year-old daughter, is fighting to keep more of that fortune in the family through a probate battle that went to trial in Houston last week. Jurors will be asked to decide among more than a dozen wills her father executed before he died last year at age 95.

"Nobody ever said Mr Glassell was demented while he was alive," David Gerger, an attorney speaking on behalf of the museum and the Glassell Family Foundation, told jurors in his opening statement. "He knew exactly what he was doing."

Curry Glassell and her children will receive about $10m in cash and mineral rights under her father's last will, a tenth of an earlier bequest. She contends the museum and its lawyers pressured her father to change his will and leave the bulk of his fortune to the museum and a family foundation controlled by her half-brother, Alfred C Glassell III, 45.

Glassell decided "to give most of his money to charity," Gerger said. "Nobody tricked him to do that or bamboozled him to do that or pulled the wool over his eyes."

Curry Glassell also will be receiving money from a trust fund, he said.

A lawyer for Curry Glassell said she was set to receive a much larger bequest until her father signed new wills in 2000 and 2003. The earlier wills left Curry Glassell about one- quarter of his estate, a share worth between $100m and $150m, attorney Jack Lawter said at the trial.

"There's a long history of how he wanted to treat his family and his property," Lawter told jurors. "It changes radically right at the very end."

By this time, Glassell was "a very sick man," Lawter said. "We're not saying he was in a coma or couldn't talk. The evidence will show Mr Glassell couldn't form a reasonable judgment on these issues."

Curry's lawyers described her as a single mother of two teenage sons who is part-owner of Good Vibes for You, an Australian organic bottled-water company. "She doesn't run in the same circles as a lot of people in this case," Lawter said before trial, referring to Alfred III's prominence on Houston's charity ball and country-club circuit.

It will be difficult to persuade jurors that the museum didn't have a special place in Alfred C Glassell Jr's heart, museum lawyer Joe Jamail said in an interview. As chairman of the museum's board of trustees in the 1990s, Glassell led a capital campaign that raised $112m to build an exhibition wing that doubled the museum's size in 2000, making it the nation's fifth-largest.The most visible sign of the oilman's support was his 1979 donation of the Glassell School of Art, which serves as the MFAH's teaching wing.

"The museum was a big part of his life," Jamail said.

"He even tried to train the docents who showed people around the museum."

During his lifetime, Glassell also gave the museum more than 1,000 gold artifacts in three collections of West African, Indonesian and Pre-Columbian art. MFAH claims the US's largest collection of Akan gold art from Ghana and Ivory Coast, as well as the biggest collection of Indonesian gold art outside of Jakarta, almost all donated by Glassell.

The MFAH isn't the only museum to receive a Glassell donation. The 1,560-pound black marlin that Glassell caught with a rod and reel in 1953 - a world record game fish that doubled as Spencer Tracy's catch in the film adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's ‘The Old Man and the Sea' - was given to the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.

As late as 1998, the date of a will Curry Glassell wants probated, Alfred Glassell left virtually everything to his wife of four decades, Clare Attwell Glassell, now 73, along with a smattering of immediate cash bequests to family members, the museum and the art school.

Under that will, after Clare's death, his children Curry and Alfred III would each receive a quarter-share of what remains of the estate. The museum would receive the rest, her lawyers say.

Jim Hartnett, one of Curry Glassell's lawyers, told jurors that MFAH director Peter Marzio and the museum's lawyers were the oilman's frequent companions from 1998 through 2000, "the critical period" when Curry's inheritance was reduced "from $150m down to $3m and some mineral rights."

"When someone is old and sick and tired, it is easier to take advantage of them, even someone who was once very sharp, like Mr. Glassell," Hartnett said. "Mr Glassell was sitting there with a target on his back, and he doesn't know it. They wanted to supplant the family."

Lawyers said jurors will hear testimony from Marzio and his wife, Frances, who is curator of the Glassell Collections at the MFAH. Billionaire investment adviser Fayez Sarofim, who helped manage Glassell's stock portfolio, is also scheduled to testify.

The witnesses "have been feeding at the Glassell trough, and some of them want to continue," Hartnett said.

Jurors will find that Glassell's 2003 will favoured his son over his daughter by providing that Alfred III inherit extensive South Texas ranch properties and run the family foundation funded by the will, Gerger said.

"You may not like it, and you may not agree with it," Gerger told the jury last week. "But that was his right."

The case is In Re Estate of Alfred C Glassell Jr, 384045, Probate Court, Harris County, Texas (Houston).

This article is courtesy of Bloomberg.

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