An inheritance battle has erupted among three children of Minnesota businessman Irwin Jacobs — who killed his wife and then himself earlier this year — with one arguing that more than $110 million in debts may leave the siblings with virtually nothing.
Three of Jacobs’ five adult children began a dispute a few weeks after the April 10 murder-suicide at the home of Irwin and Alexandra Jacobs, who were both 77 and had been married for 57 years.
The fight intensified with a series of harshly worded e-mails over the summer and broke into the open last weekend when the Jacobs’ daughter, Randi Jacobs, obtained a court order to stop her brother, Mark Jacobs, and sister Trisha Blake from holding an estate sale at their parents’ Lake Minnetonka mansion.
Court filings in recent days show the siblings hold differing and apparently uncertain views about the size of their parents’ estate. Randi Jacobs sought a halt to the sale until a court establishes precisely what is in the wills of the parents, whether they had separate estates and, whether, because Alexandra was a victim, her estate plan takes precedence over Irwin’s. In a court filing, Randi said she believes she was designated “personal representative” of her mother’s estate.
Mark Jacobs has repeatedly told his sisters that their father’s debts far outnumbered assets and they could expect to inherit little, the documents show. In an e-mail to Randi in June, Mark wrote, “Irwin’s debts total over $110 million.” He added that their father had more than 30 creditors and new ones “keep appearing.”
The creditors include U.S. Bank and the Pohlads, the Twin Cities banking and real estate family whose late father, Carl Pohlad, helped finance some of Jacobs’ ventures.
Separately, Barbara Gentry, the longtime caretaker of a disabled adult child of Irwin and Alexandra, has sued Mark Jacobs and Trisha Blake to stop them from selling her house, partly paid for by Irwin, in an attempt to recover estate proceeds. Documents in that dispute reveal a note that Irwin Jacobs left on the day of the murder-suicide.
Reached by e-mail Wednesday, Mark Jacobs wrote, “I’m sorry I am not able to comment because of pending litigation.”
Kari Berman, the attorney representing Randi Jacobs and Barbara Gentry, said it is “highly questionable” that the estate is bankrupt.
When the estate sale was halted over the weekend, Mark Jacobs said in a statement that he hoped to “resolve our parents’ final affairs in a dignified manner.” But the court filings in recent days instead reveal siblings who are extremely distrustful of, even hostile to, each other. They are also burdened by the business risks their father took.
Jacobs started an inventory-liquidation business in the 1960s but became a corporate raider in the 1970s and ’80s. Backed by Pohlad and others, Jacobs made runs at firms such as Walt Disney Co., Pabst Brewing Co. and Castle & Cooke Inc. He acquired the AMF conglomerate in 1985 and later sold it off in pieces, though he kept the Hatteras yacht division.
That formed the base for what would become his biggest business, the boatbuilder Genmar. He borrowed to buy other boat brands and built Genmar into the nation’s No. 2 maker after Brunswick Corp. The company went bankrupt during the recession of 2008-09 and Jacobs largely retreated to his Jacobs Trading and other small, private businesses. His fortune was estimated at $400 million in the 1990s.
His wife, Alexandra, was an artist who sold paintings at Twin Cities galleries. The couple were both active in PACER Center and Courage Center, which serve people with disabilities, and supporters of other charitable organizations.
At the time of their deaths, some friends said Irwin had become distraught over the declining health of his wife, who was physically incapacitated last year and showed signs of dementia. Irwin had stopped driving because of his own incapacitating seizures and had been “talking more about his mortality” in the months leading up to the murder-suicide, Mark Jacobs told the Star Tribune.
Initially, Mark Jacobs took charge of the parents’ estate and things initially appeared to be unfolding in an orderly fashion. In June, Mark wrote an e-mail to Randi saying that Irwin’s will left her $200,000 in cash, along with $100,000 for each of her two children. But he added, payment would depend on the settlement of debts and might not happen.
“The value of Irwin’s assets will be substantially below the amount of his debts,” he wrote. He added, “At the end of the day, there will not be enough money to pay creditors, let alone trust beneficiaries.”
In a subsequent e-mail, he told his sister “clearly you thought there was an ever-growing money tree that you were entitled to forever.”
In a filing this week after Randi halted the estate sale, Mark Jacobs wrote that its proceeds “are the only assets available to pay unsecured creditors of the estate.”
Portions of the documents were first reported by the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal.
Berman said Randi Jacobs has been seeking additional documents since June 17 and learned only recently that she was listed as a personal representative on her mother’s will. “There have been very important and relevant documents that have been withheld and concealed from Ms. Jacobs,” Berman said.
Berman also said Randi Jacobs had no idea what was to be offered at the estate sale last weekend.
“Randi learned of the sale on the afternoon of the 12th, before it was to commence early on the morning of the 13th,” she said.
Barry Gersick, a longtime attorney for the Jacobs family, said Wednesday, “We don’t think Randi’s claims have any merit.”
Staff writer Abby Simons contributed to this report.