Foundation leaders seek to enter legal battle for heiress Kawananakoa’s fortune

Abigail Kawananakoa Foundation seeks to enter legal dispute over $200M fortune
Board members of the foundation are seeking entrance into the legal battle. (Image: Hawaii News Now)
Board members of the foundation are seeking entrance into the legal battle. (Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Several prominent Hawaiian leaders are joining the legal battle over Hawaiian royalty descendant Abigail Kawananakoa's $200 million trust.

Former Bishop Estate trustee Oswald Stender, University of Hawaii Hawaiian Studies Professor Lilikala Kameeleihiwa and Hawaiian social services executive Jan Dill are board members of the Abigail Kawananakoa Foundation.

On Thursday, the foundation filed a notice of appearance in state Probate Court. With Kawananakoa now 92 and control of her wealth in dispute, the board members said they worry that her legacy is in jeopardy.

"It would be a great tragedy if monies that Abigail Kawananakoa wanted to give to a foundation to care for Hawaiian people was misused, squandered perhaps, and not directed toward what she wanted," Kameeleihiwa said.

The foundation is supported by Kawananakoa's trust and is supposed to get more than half its assets – about $100 million – after she dies.

That foundation has provided financial support for Iolani Palace and Hawaiian education and language preservation projects. Board members said they want to add to its mission by providing housing and healthcare assistance for Hawaiians.

Kameeleihiwa and Dill said they are concerned about Kawananakoa's health and welfare after she suffered a stroke-like attack last year. Some medical experts said she is no longer capable of managing her own financial affairs.

The trust is now run by Kawananakoa's former attorney, James Wright, who was appointed after her medical emergency last year.

But Kawananakoa and her wife Veronica Worth are fighting in court to remove Wright and take control of her fortune.

A hearing to determine the future of Kawananakoa's trust will held in Circuit Court next week. But the foundation said it wants more time and it wants to seek the appointment of a special advocate, who would better look after her needs.

Had such an advocate, or kokua kanawai, been appointed earlier, "we could have been on a much different path here than … litigation in this matter," said Moses Haia of the Native Hawaiian Legal Corp.

Attorneys for Kawananakoa and Worth had no immediate comment.

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