The story of Ben Novack, the heir to Fontainebleau hotel who was murdered by his wife, Narcy Novack, has received widespread media coverage and resulted in multiple litigations. More than five years after Ben’s death, the fight for his fortune still continues. More Recently, a Florida Court of Appeal concluded that Narcy’s heirs COULD inherit the family fortune and this has made headlines!
Now, I had to write about this story for three reasons! First, very few people know this but I am from Rye, New York, where Ben Novack was found murdered (I was born in Port Chester but we lived next door in Rye). Rye Brook is a village in Westchester County that boarders Connecticut (about a 40 minute drive to Grand Central Station); second, the Fontainebleau on Miami Beach was one of the last development projects my engineering firm ever worked on before I became an attorney; and third, this case made new estate planning case law!
In July 2009, Ben Novack Jr. was found murdered in a hotel room in Rye Brook, N.Y. A few weeks earlier, Ben’s mother, Bernice had also been found dead in her home in Fort Lauderdale. Ben’s wife, Narcy was convicted of both of these murders in a federal district court in New York and was sentenced to life in prison. According to the criminal case against her, Narcy hired hitmen to kill both her husband and mother in law and watched as the hit men she had hired bashed him in the head and chest with dumbbells, bound him with duct tape, and slashed out his eyes… pretty cold! Apparently Narcy feared her multimillionaire husband was unfaithful (sources confirm that at the time of his death, he was having an affair with porn actress Rebecca Bliss) and planned to divorce her, leaving her with only $65,000 under the prenuptial agreement. She and her brother, Cristobal Veliz, allegedly orchestrated the killings to gain Ben Novack’s reported $10 million fortune.
Apparently, Narcy was unaware of Florida’s Slayer statute, which derives from the common law rule that: “no person should be permitted to benefit from his own wrong.” Florida’s Slayer Statute prohibits the person who killed the decedent (dead guy) from receiving any benefits under the decedent’s will or through intestate succession, and the estate of the decedent passes as if the killer had predeceased the decedent – that is as if the killer died before the victim.
Thus followed the fight in Broward County probate court over the Fontainebleau fortune!
The probate court administering Ben’s estate initially determined that Narcy wasn’t entitled to participate in the estate and would be treated as having predeceased Ben under Florida’s Slayer Statute. Under Ben’s estate plan, because: (1) his mother had predeceased him, and (2) Narcy was treated as having predeceased him pursuant to Florida’s Slayer Statute, Ben’s fortune was to go to Narcy’s daughter and her kids!
This didn’t sit well with Ben’s cousins, Meredith and Lisa Fiel. They believed that Narcy could still indirectly benefit from Ben’s fortune in contravention of the policy behind the Slayer Statute. After all, they argued, Narcy’s daughter and grandkids could simply deposit money inherited from Ben into Narcy’s prison inmate account. Based on the potential indirect benefit to Narcy, the Fiels sought to convince the Florida trial court that the Slayer Statute also barred Narcy’s daughter and grandkids from inheriting under Ben’s will.
In addressing the Fiels’ argument, the Court of Appeal looked to the plain language of Florida’s Slayer Statute and concluded that Narcy’s daughter and her kids could inherit the family fortune!
But we all know, where there is considerable money involved, the saga will continue! In the probate proceedings, the Fiels also sought to invalidate two of Ben’s wills (which benefited Narcy’s family) on the basis of undue influence. In their complaint, the Fiels alleged that Narcy had used physical violence, death threats, home invasions and extortion to make Ben execute the two wills naming her and her family as beneficiaries.
It appears that with this ruling, as one chapter of the estate of Ben Novack closes, the next chapter begins and the fight is far from over.