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Jury awards $4 billion probate verdict

Administering an estate and engaging in probate requires competency and diligence in Arizona. However, an enormous jury verdict in Texas is also a reminder of the importance of these duties.

A 6-person jury in Dallas awarded a $4 billion verdict against JPMorgan Chase after finding that it engaged in negligence, fraud and malice when it misspent millions of dollars from the $25 million estate of Max D. Hopper. He was known for bringing technological innovations to major airline ticketing systems.

The trial lasted four weeks and the jury deliberated for almost five hours. It awarded $1 million in damages and $2 billion in punitive damages to Hopper's widow and $1.8 million in actual damages and $1 billion in punitive damages to each of his children and legal heirs. This is the largest probate award ever made in Texas.

His family claimed that the bank did not exercise due diligence and their ongoing failures deprived his heirs from receiving a complete and proper distribution of Hopper estate assets. He died in 2010.

One of the plaintiff's attorneys said that the heirs asked the bank about various factors concerning their ongoing estate administration. The bank repeatedly, and falsely, told them that it the estate was being properly administered.

He also claimed that the bank continues to drain its assets and the heir' inheritance. It violated its fiduciary duty and continuously kept assets that clearly belong to the heirs of the estate. The bank spent $3 million in estate funds to pay lawyers for services that it had to perform under contract, according to the lawyer.

A JPMorgan spokesperson said that the bank acted professionally and in good faith while administering this estate. Also, that the court did not enter a judgment based on the case. He claimed that the jury verdict will not be upheld under Texas law and that it exceeds a valid interpretation under the state's tort reform laws.

A qualified attorney can help develop an estate and prepare documents and a plan that avoid probate disputes and other litigation. A lawyer can also assist families with assuring that their rights are protected.

Source: The Houston Chronicle, "JPMorgan Chase loses probate damage verdict," Mark Curriden, Sept. 27, 2017

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