Updated December 3, 2020 - 6:32 pm
Tony Hsieh’s parents may end up inheriting his nearly billion-dollar fortune, but they could be headed for a lengthy legal process, according to two attorneys who have handled high-profile probate cases in Nevada.
Lawyers for Hsieh’s family filed court papers this week stating that they were “unaware of the existence of a fully executed estate plan” and believe the former Zappos CEO and Las Vegas tech entrepreneur died on Friday without a will.
“He was young. Most people who are in their 40s and in good health don’t think they’re going to die,” said Las Vegas attorney Alice Denton, who handled the disbursement of Route 91 Harvest festival gunman Stephen Paddock’s estate. “So it’s not uncommon to not have a will.”
Hsieh, 46, was single and had no children. According to Nevada law, living parents become the heirs to anyone who dies while unmarried and without children.
Representing Hsieh’s parents and brothers, attorney Dara Goldsmith asked a judge for an order that would allow them to access his financial accounts and protect his assets. Goldsmith declined to comment Thursday, saying in an email that she was “busy working on court filings related to the Hsieh matter that require immediate attention.”
Judge lets father, brother to act as administrators
Late Thursday, District Judge Gloria Sturman granted a request to appoint Hsieh’s father and brother as administrators of his estate, giving them “full access to all historical and current financial information.”
Once Hsieh’s relatives are granted power to manage the estate, Denton said, they must publish a notification that would allow anyone with a claim to his assets the chance to step forward. Meanwhile, the family could uncover an estate plan as they search his accounts and personal papers.
Another probate lawyer, Brent Bryson, pointed out that the musician Prince died in 2016 without a will, and a Minnesota judge declared his sister and half-siblings heirs to his millions of dollars.
“You have some people who are very wealthy and who are also very eccentric,” said Bryson, who represented the executor of the estate of blues legend B.B. King. “They figure once they’re gone, what difference does it make? So they’ll let everyone fight about it. Then you have other people who have a quite extensive plan, who really want to take control to avoid as much bickering and fighting among beneficiaries or potential beneficiaries.”
Most people fall somewhere in the middle, the attorney said.
Hsieh’s parents live in California, but according to Nevada probate law, a resident of the state must be appointed as an administrator of his estate. Hsieh’s two adult brothers, Andrew and David, live in Henderson. In the court papers filed this week, Goldsmith listed Andrew Hsieh and their father, Richard, as possible co-administrators.
Since the judge granted them such authority, they can begin to manage Hsieh’s assets. His net worth was estimated at $840 million when he died last week from complications of smoke inhalation. He had been injured nine days earlier in a house fire in Connecticut. Officials there have said an investigation into the death is ongoing.
Hsieh had moved Zappos from a suburban Henderson office park to the 11-story former Las Vegas City Hall in 2013. He launched the Downtown Project a year earlier, pumping $350 million into real estate, restaurants, tech startups and other ventures in the Fremont Street area.
The venture acquired vacant lots, old motels and apartment buildings, and developed the open-air retail hub Downtown Container Park.
Legal challenges could arise
Should someone find planning documents, contest ownership of a portion of his fortune, or claim Hsieh has children as heirs, a judge would have to make a decision on the credibility of their interests.
“That would be where someone could — most probably not — come out of the woodwork,” Denton said. ‘That’s where you would see the controversy come in.”
Even if Hsieh does have a will, legal challenges could arise from claims to his assets, Bryson said.
“It’s very rare to find black and white instances within the law,” he said. “Things are frequently subject to interpretation and a ruling by a judge. Most people who have lots of money tend to have a complete and complex testamentary scheme.”
Statement from Hsieh family
Attorney Dara Goldsmith released the following statement Thursday on behalf of Tony Hsieh’s family:
“The Hsieh family is deeply grateful for the outpouring of love and respect shown in the wake of Tony’s passing. It is clear to the family that he had a profound impact on countless people all over the world. He was a forward thinker with a zeal for bringing joy to others, and bridged communities and people from all walks of life. He valued experiences and relationships over material wealth, and always chose kindness.
“Tony was extremely accomplished in both his personal and professional lives, his parents are most proud of how he turned out as a human being. He had true compassion and an endless desire to elevate everyone around him. He would often refer to himself as the caboose, because everyone else came first.
“The Hsieh family hopes to carry on Tony’s legacy by spreading the tenets he lived by – finding joy through meaningful life experience, inspiring and helping others, and most of all, delivering happiness.”