The Story


There is an on-going battle in Sheridan, Wyoming concerning a local citizen, Mercedes Kibbee, and her intentions to leave a beautiful ranch and a $30 million estate in a foundation to benefit the community’s most needy children. These children, Mrs. Kibbee called her Kibbee Kids, are the small, innocent and voiceless victims who appear to be losing. At this point the only people seeing any of Mrs. Kibbee’s money are a bank, lawyers, and the local YMCA.

This situation raises the question, is it legal for a lawyer and a bank to accept payment from a client and defy that client’s instructions. In this instance a large estate intended for one purpose was misdirected to another. Apparently it is easier than most of us believe for our own bankers and lawyers to betray our trust.

What does the public need to know to protect themselves from individuals and institutions they should be able to trust? Mrs. Kibbee, who at one point realized her instructions were being ignored, took the obvious steps of writing a directive, having it notarized and even going so far as to have it filed in the local courthouse. Surely the average citizen would believe this action would be sufficient to have that directive accepted as her final word. Can a clever lawyer and trustee working together, whose objectives are different from those of their client, find a legal way to ignore this directive?

Is such a thing possible? The answer is that we don’t know, but we are watching it play out right now in the case of Mrs. Kibbee’s estate.  Should the conclusion of this ongoing battle prove that, in this case it is possible, then we all had best rethink our relationships with our bankers and lawyers. One simple precaution would be never choose the same financial institution that has one's portfolio under management as one's trustee. In such a situation, decision-making can be influenced by that institution’s bottom line.

Protecting oneself where lawyers are concerned is much more complicated because ‘conflict of interests’ is always open to the lawyer’s interpretation. There are the obvious conflicts of interest where a law firm being interviewed already has another client whose interests are counter to the perspective client. But, what happens if the conflict is not that obvious and the lawyer chooses to accept the job.

Do you need to get a second lawyer to check the work of the first lawyer and a third lawyer to check to work of the second lawyer? In the case discussed here even three lawyers were not enough.

In this instance we have a bank, originally two lawyers (one chosen by the bank), later a third for whom the first lawyer had worked, and a very frail elderly client on heavy doses of painkillers, who was frequently hospitalized. Due to some rather serious miscommunications early on, and worried that her state of health made it impossible for her to follow long legal documents and discussions she gave strict instructions to the banker and lawyers that her daughter was to be included in all discussions and decisions. In deposition, one of the lawyers acknowledged that they had intentionally prevented this from happening.

The client was interested in establishing a Foundation to benefit the neediest children in Sheridan. She had specific criteria that she insisted be included in the structure of the Foundation and other criteria that she insisted be excluded.

But:

The answer is - a foundation that is the very antithesis of what the client wanted. This would in effect give away all of the client’s property to friends of the bankers and lawyers but strangers to the client. The people she wanted to protect are being fired, the animals she wanted taken care of are being thrown out of her home and the income from $30 million and beautiful ranch now belong to the XYZ Foundation under the management of the bank.

 The needy children are still needy.


See the Timeline for the details of this story.