This Harry Potter Publisher Blindsided His Family When He Left Them Nothing

Maurice Richard Robinson, Jr., died suddenly on June 5, 2021, while on a walk in Martha’s Vineyard. From 1975 until his recent death, Robinson was the chief executive officer of Scholastic Corporation, a publishing company founded by his father. During his tenure as the CEO of Scholastic, his company published many a hit series including Harry Potter, Magic School Bus, Captain Underpants, Hunger Games, and Clifford the Big Red Dog, just to name a few.

Robinson, a Harvard graduate and former high school English teacher, was the son of Maurice R. Robinson, who founded Scholastic in 1920 as a classroom magazine. The younger Robinson started at Scholastic as an editor in the mid-1960s and was later named president of Scholastic in 1974, CEO in 1975, and board chairman in 1982.

Robinson was survived by his two sons with ex-wife, Helen Benham, John Benham “Ben” Robinson, 34, and Maurice “Reece” Robinson, 25. Benham and Robinson divorced in 2003, but she remained his confidante, and they had become close in the years before his death. She had worked for Scholastic for more than 30 years prior to the divorce, even sitting on the board at one point in time while also raising their two children. She recounts her husband saying on more than one occasion, “(y)ou care more about Scholastic than I do.”

Family Completely Shocked When Estate Plan Is Revealed

After Robinson’s sudden death, the family — including his siblings — was completely shocked when they heard how he left them nothing, bequeathing his interest in Scholastic Corporation company and his $1.2 billion fortune to his former romantic partner and company executive, Iole Lucchese. He also left her all of his personal possessions, as well, to keep or distribute as she sees fit.

In his 2018 estate plan, Robinson described Lucchese, a 30-year company veteran, as his “partner and closest friend.” Lucchese and Robinson had been longtime romantic partners, according to interviews with family members and former employees. Under the will and revocable trust, Lucchese is now the sole beneficiary of more than 50 percent of the company’s Class A shares, which hold the majority of voting power. A representative of the company said there are also common shares that belonged to the late Robinson, worth around $70 million, which won’t ultimately be owned by Lucchese.

Family members are unhappy and shocked about the century-old publishing house, which has always been controlled by the Robinson family, falling into the hands of an outsider. “I was shocked and we were not expecting this,” his son, Benham, said of the estate’s outcome. “What I want most is an amicable outcome.” According to his son, Reece, “(y)ou might think from the will that he didn’t see his sons. That’s not true. For the last two years, I saw him multiple times a week.”

Why Robinson May Have Done This

Some people close to Richard Robinson said that he often spoke about how he had to work his way up as a young worker in the company, while neither of his sons has made a career there. Lucchese, on the other hand, has been at Scholastic since 1991, when she became an associate editor in book clubs and moved up the ranks until becoming chief strategy officer in 2014.

Both Lucchese and Robinson were described as being “passionate” about Scholastic, which is probably why he ultimately left her the company, said a source. Neither of his two sons showed interest in the business, the source said.

According to another source who was a former employee, “Iole was the love of his life. That would really explain why he left her everything.”

The family is currently trying to settle things with Lucchese, saying that it would be acceptable to them if she transfers some of her shares to family members. If they cannot settle out of court, they indicated that they plan to take legal action.

Plan for Possible Scenarios to Avoid Surprises in Estate Planning

Richard Robinson had every right to leave everything to Lucchese. He likely loved her and thought it was best for his business, since she had been there for decades and worked her way up to a leadership role, similar to himself.

What he could have done differently, however, was to inform his family, with whom he seemed to have a relationship, of the plan. Yes, it would have been a difficult conversation, and they still probably would have been hurt and upset but not blindsided. They might have found a mutually acceptable way to move forward.

Robinson could have also had a transparent succession plan in place for his business. Transparency builds trust. A transparent succession plan would have been beneficial for his employees and his family in this situation.

It all comes down to good communication, and Robinson is not alone when it comes to failure to communicate with family, employees, etc. In fact, an important but frequently overlooked step in the estate planning process is communicating the plan to family members. Communication is an integral part of the estate planning process, and it helps to avoid surprises and unintended consequences. You can ultimately avoid many issues by planning and communicating your plan!

Communicate Your Estate Plan to Loved Ones

When it comes to estate planning, there are often significant financial and personal benefits to being transparent and having sensitive conversations. Besides leaving your loved ones in the know, an open dialogue can:

  • Bring your family a sense of empowerment from the knowledge that you are taking control of each other’s collective future rather than leaving some elements to chance;
  • Pass on family values;
  • Help your family develop a common understanding and a common philosophy for how you and your family’s legacy will be carried out through generations;
  • Help prepare the family in the event you or another family member becomes incapacitated;
  • Help other members of your family—your parents, your siblings, or your children— develop a responsible plan;
  • Allow your family to take advantage of some of the best tax strategies.

How to Get the Conversation Started

Despite how important this conversation can be, it may still be difficult to initiate. There is certainly more than one right way to begin a dialogue. Here are a few suggestions to help guide you:

  • Determine which family member(s) you would like to entrust with the details of your estate plan;
  • Determine how much information you feel comfortable sharing;
  • Pick a positive, comfortable environment during a period of relative calm. Don’t wait until a time of crisis when it may be too late to make adequate plans, and family members may not feel emotionally able to talk;
  • Have an open conversation with your family member(s), and remember to update them as your estate plan changes;
  • Be sincere about your intentions. Be clear that you are initiating these talks out of concern that proper plans are in place and are understood;
  • Stress the importance and benefits of this conversation to everyone affected. One way to do this is to show an example of an estate that was improperly handled because family members had failed to discuss their plans with each other, similar to the one described above.

Once your estate plan is in place, and you’ve communicated everything to your family and other important people in your life, be sure to have a backup plan and others who are aware of your wishes. Be prepared if your chosen beneficiaries pass away before you do or if the people you have chosen for certain roles are unwilling or unable to serve when they are needed.

In addition, be sure to update your plan often. A number of life events certainly require an estate plan review, such as: if you get married or divorced; if you have a child; if you move to another state; if you acquire a significant amount of new property; and more. View a more comprehensive list here. Remember, even if you haven’t experienced any major events in the past few years, you may still need an estate plan checkup. Laws change frequently, and they can impact your estate plan or present new planning opportunities.

Get Your Estate Planning Started or Make Necessary Updates Today!

At the Farr Law Firm, we help our clients plan for themselves and their loved ones. By planning in advance, each person can retain the assets it has taken a lifetime to accumulate and the peace of mind that their family’s needs will be adequately and properly addressed. If you or members of your family have not done Incapacity Planning, Estate Planning, or Long-term Care Planning, or if a loved one is beginning to need more care than you can handle, please contact us as soon as possible to make an appointment for an initial consultation:

Estate Planning Fairfax: 703-691-1888

Estate Planning Fredericksburg: 540-479-1435

Estate Planning Rockville: 301-519-8041

Estate Planning DC: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.