John Seward Johnson, Sr. (1895-1983) – Businessman
John Seward Johnson, also known as Seward Johnson, was one of the sons of Robert Wood Johnson, Sr. (co-founder of Johnson & Johnson). He founded the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution (HBOI). Johnson was married three times, and he had six children. While he was married to Esther Underwood, his second wife of 32 years, he engaged in extramarital affairs with his chambermaid, Barbara Piasecka. In 1971, they married and none of Johnson’s children were in attendance. He signed his final will on April 14, 1983, leaving the bulk of his fortune to Piasecka. In that year Johnson died of cancer at the age of 87. In accordance with the terms of the will, she received $402,824,971.59.
The exclusion of the rest his family from the Will led to at least three highly publicized legal battles. The three-year probate litigation generated $24 million in attorney’s fees. The six children from his first two marriages sued on grounds that he was not mentally competent at the time he signed the Will. It was settled out of court and the children were granted about 12% of his fortune. The second legal dispute was regarding eligibility of Mary Lea Johnson Richards’ husband’s share of the fortune, which lasted twelve years. The court ruled in favor of her husband. The third battle was regarding the eligibility of John Seward Johnson II’s daughter’s share of the fortune. The court ruled in favor of his daughter. In addition, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution contested the new Will, and eventually received $20 million in settlement.
J. Seward Johnson, Sr. was a notable businessman but even successful businessmen can fail to plan properly. If you want to minimize the consequences of failing to properly plan your estate, then contact The Mendel Law Firm, L.P. for a free initial consultation on estate planning, trust planning, and/or probate issues.