Estate of T. Rex Skeleton Landowner Is at the Center of Court Fight

Estate of T. Rex Skeleton Landowner Is at the Center of Court Fight

Darlene Williams died in 2020, more than a dozen years after the $8 million sale of a fossilized skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus rex named Sue that was found on her family’s ranch in South Dakota in 1990.

Now, her children are fighting over who should inherit her money, pointing to conflicting wills that Ms. Williams left, including one she signed shortly before her death.

It is the latest legal dispute spawned by Sue, a crown jewel of paleontology regarded as the most complete T. rex fossil ever found. The bones have been at the center of court cases almost from the moment fossil hunters found the 67 million-year-old gem of the Jurassic era.

Before her death in 2020, Ms. Williams had written two wills.

In a 2017 will, she appointed one of her daughters, Sandra Williams Luther, as the personal representative of her estate. In another will, written in 2020, she designated that same daughter to be her sole heir and the sole executor of her estate.

“Please do not fight amongst you all,” the 2020 will read. “I have lived with my children at odds for too many years.”

But another daughter, Jaqueline Schwartz, has argued in court that the second will is not legitimate and that it is legally flawed.

According to Ms. Schwartz’s objection, just days before the 2020 will was dated, her mother was “critically ill” and admitted to a hospital. When Ms. Schwartz visited, her mother “would float in and out of consciousness,” and “was barely able to speak,” according to court papers.

Ms. Schwartz has argued that her mother was “susceptible to undue influence” because of low oxygen levels and severe anemia, which made it difficult for her to communicate, and that only one visitor was allowed at a time in keeping with coronavirus pandemic restrictions.

In February, Ms. Schwartz filed another petition, which asked a court for permission to bring claims against Ms. Luther and another sibling, Carson Williams, over what Ms. Schwartz said was the mismanagement of her mother’s funds.

Less than two weeks before her mother’s death, Ms. Williams appeared to have sold her home, Ms. Schwartz’s petition said, but her mother’s signature on the settlement documents did not match others.

The proceeds from the sale of the house, which amounted to around $225,000 as reported by The Associated Press, were intended to go to Darlene Williams, and after she died, to her estate, according to the petition.

Instead, Ms. Schwartz has said, they were “converted and misappropriated” by Ms. Luther and Mr. Williams, who collaborated to enrich themselves after their mother’s death.

Lawyers for the siblings did not respond to multiple requests for comment on Friday and Saturday. It is not clear how much each sibling could have gained from their mother’s estate.

The T. rex fossil unearthed on the family ranch was named Sue, after Sue Hendrickson, the woman who discovered it during a commercial excavation trip. It took six people 17 days to extract the skeleton. The dinosaur was estimated to have lived for around 28 years, according to growth rings in the bones.

Its discovery led to a five-year custody dispute that ended in a public auction in 1997, according to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago.

The museum acquired the bones for $8.36 million in 1990 and now displays the skeleton, which is more than 40 feet long and 13 feet tall. The museum has 250 of approximately 380 of the bones.

The skeleton “is the most celebrated representative of T. rex and arguably the most famous fossil in the world,” the museum’s website reads, adding that it “has enabled scientists all over the world to do more detailed studies of the species’ evolutionary relationships, biology, growth and behavior than ever before.”

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