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Napa Businessman Estate Goes to Court

There is now a family dispute between the late Ed Keith’s two daughters over what happened to their father’s $92 million estate, including $38 million that had been earmarked for a foundation intended to benefit disadvantaged youth.

In 2016, ten years after Ed Keith died, Lisa Keith filed suit to compel her sister, Celeste K. White, to provide a full accounting of millions of dollars that she controlled as co-trustee of Ed’s estate. Ed Keith was a self-made businessman who owned 500 apartment units in Napa and many other holdings.

Lisa Keith questions the propriety of a variety of financial decisions made by Celeste White. This includes $15 million invested in a for-profit real estate company, the purchase of a $2.4 million condo in Santa Barbara, the acquisition of a Land Rover for a winery and the construction of a stable for their polo ponies.

Lisa Keith is one of Ed’s five children from two marriages. Her sister, Celeste, lives in Napa with her husband, Dr. Robert White, who was named the executor of Ed’s estate.

Lisa alleges that the Whites made questionable decisions regarding the money from their father’s estate and argues that an estimated $1.8 million in trustee fees paid to Celeste should be refunded to the trust.

A Napa County Superior Court judge recently ruled that Lisa had no standing to ask for an accounting of foundation funds, because she’s not a director or beneficiary of the foundation.  However, since she’s a beneficiary of the trust, she continues to ask for an accounting of Ed’s trust funds.

Upon Ed Keith’s death, a number of early distributions dictated by his trust were made, including $1 million to each of his five children, $2 million to his 12 grandchildren, and $10 million to a winery. This reduced the estate to $76 million. According to the trust, half of that – $38 million – was to be placed in the Edward A. Keith Foundation, which was created to provide financial and other assistance to disadvantaged youth or children “otherwise in need.”

The other $38 million was to be divided equally among Keith’s five children. After all the bills were paid, there was $9.2 million left to be split among the five siblings.

Lisa looked into what happened to her father’s foundation and found several facts that led her to become concerned. Celeste reportedly paid herself and her husband more than $300,000 annually from the foundation and $15 million from the foundation was invested in a for-profit real estate investment company managed by Celeste. Of that $15 million, $2.4 million was used to buy a condo in Santa Barbara.

Lisa says the foundation was “shortchanged to support Celeste and her husband’s lifestyle,” according to court documents.

Lisa claims that after her father’s death, Celeste had Lisa and her other siblings removed as directors of the foundation, leaving just Celeste and her husband in charge. She also claims the foundation then dropped any requirement that it benefit disadvantaged youth or children in need. However, Celeste’s attorneys said Ed removed Lisa as a director of the Foundation before he died.

According to court documents, the Edward Keith Foundation distributed $38 million to charities. But Lisa believes that if her father was alive, he wouldn’t have chosen to support some of those charities.

If there is one thing the family can agree on, it’s this: Ed wouldn’t have wanted a battle over his estate.

Reference: Napa Valley Register (February 3, 2018) “Wealthy Napa businessman's heirs seek answers about $92 million estate”

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