On a rainy and foggy March night in 1986, a small plane crashed outside of Chicago, killing F. Francis “Hi Ho” D’Addario, one of the most prolific and colorful industrialists of the 20the century in Connecticut.
Successful and wealthy, D’Addario was a 63-year-old Bridgeport businessman who had a will that distributed his substantial estate – valued at as much as $162 million — among his wife and five children.
It was a complicated matter. D’Addario Industries was diverse, from construction and paving to real estate, television and gambling to the Brakettes, a professional women’s softball team. That was nothing, however, compared to the mess that awaited in Connecticut’s probate courts.
More than 26 years later, D’Addario’s will remains open before probate court. And according to one interested party, the mystery is where all the millions have gone.
This long-running D'Addario saga of more than two decades of legal wrangling, intrigue and infighting is another reminder of a probate court system stuck in another era. While there is nothing to suggest that the D'Addario story is typical, the case raises questions about a court system that critics say lacks oversight – a theme I have sounded often in my years of columns about the probate court system's failure to enter modern times.
"It is a situation ripe for abuse,'' write lawyers for one of the estate's creditors, the Cadle Company, in a federal complaint filed recently against D'Addario's sons David and Lawrence and others connected with the estate. Connecticut probate court procedures lack "appropriate judicial supervision,'' Cadle lawyers charge in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Bridgeport.
I can't begin to unravel the decades-long dispute between D'Addario's oldest son David and the Cadle Corp, which has sought payment of about $3.1 million from the estate over the decades. The Cadle lawsuit seeks to settle some of that, charging that D'Addario's millions evaporated in years of "plundering, pillaging and looting."
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Probate Dispute Drains $162 Million Estate