The stepdaughter of Fontainebleau heir Ben Novack Jr. on Monday was awarded $50,000 from his estate to pay for her son’s heart surgery, but she is a long way from collecting his fortune — or what is left of it.
Novack’s assets, once estimated at as much as $10 million, appear to have dwindled down to less than $4 million, according to court documents.
The estate has been the focus of a five-year probate battle involving a legion of family members, long-lost relatives and even one possible illegitimate child. They have been contesting the slain millionaire’s 2006 will, which left the bulk of his property, cash, life insurance, Batman collectibles and other valuables to his wife, Narcy.
In 2012, Narcy Novack, 57, was sentenced to life in prison for arranging the killing of her husband and his 86-year-old mother, Bernice, as part of a murder-for-hire scheme. By law, she cannot inherit his estate, as she has been disqualified under Florida slayer statue — which prohibits someone who causes a death from benefiting from it.
Novack, a former stripper, married Novack Jr. in 1991. He was the son of Ben Novack Sr., builder of the storied Fontainebleau on Miami Beach. Novack Sr. died in 1985, and left most of his assets to his ex-wife, Bernice and his son. When Bernice Novack was killed in April 2009, her estate, valued at about $2 million, went to Novack Jr., her only son. Three months later, Novack Jr. was found beaten to death in a hotel in Rye Brook, Westchester County, N.Y. He had been bound and gagged and his eyes were slit.
Eventually, Narcy and her brother, Cristobal Veliz, were arrested, charged and convicted of hiring hit men to kill Novack and his mother so that Narcy would lay claim to his fortune. At the time, Novack Jr. was president of a convention planning company that purportedly had annual sales of $50 million. He also was having an affair with a former prostitute and was talking about divorcing his wife.
Under Novack’s last will, with Narcy out of the picture, her daughter, May Abad, 38, is designated to receive $150,000, with the balance — and bulk — of his estate left to Abad’s two sons, Marcello, 21, and Patrick, 20, in the form of trusts. Abad also has a third son, Ben, born after her stepfather’s death.
At least six other family members have staked a claim to the shrinking inheritance, which, according to the estate’s IRS statement, was worth almost $4 million in 2012. Much of Novack’s other assets have been liquidated, including his prized collection of Batman memorabilia, once considered one of the largest collections in the country.
According to the court file, the items, which were auctioned off, fetched just $350,000.
Thus far, efforts to revoke Novack’s will in Broward County probate court have been unsuccessful. Various lawyers representing family members over the years have appealed. Because the matter is still being litigated, Judge Charles Greene is prevented from disbursing the estate.
Ben Novack Jr.’s cousins, Andrea Hissom Wynn, and her brother, Joseph Danenza, along with cousins Gerald Brezner and Meredith and Lisa Fiel, have mounted legal challenges. Wynn, the wife of Las Vegas hotel magnate Steve Wynn, is the daughter of Arlene Novack, Ben Novack Sr.’s sister.
Also appealing the judge’s decision is Ronnie Marc Novack, Ben Novack Jr.’s half-brother; and another unidentified woman who claims she is Ben Novack Sr.’s illegitimate daughter, the product of a one-night stand with someone who once worked at the Fontainebleau.
Harvey Morse, a genealogist researcher and lawyer, is representing some members of the clan who believe that the slayer statute should be expanded to include Narcy’s daughter and grandsons.
“Look at it this way. Grandmom is in prison and she tells her grandsons she needs money for legal fees,” Morse said. “It’s not out of the possibility that the grandsons would help her out.”
Andrew Winston, the lawyer representing the Fiels, said Ben Jr.’s 2002 will named his mother as sole beneficiary. In the event she died, the estate was to flow to the Fiels.
“We believe that the subsequent wills were signed under duress as a result of Narcy threatening Ben,” Winston said.
But Carl Schuster, the lawyer who drew up the 2006 will, said leaving his money to his wife, with his grandsons as primary beneficiaries should his wife die, was “the way he wanted to go.”
“I can tell you one thing. Ben would not be the type of person to give assets to people he didn’t like,” said Schuster, who has been doing probate law for 50 years.
He added that Ben had a fondness for Abad’s sons.
“He had no children, and he felt good about them,’’ he said.
On Monday, Abad told Greene that, despite working two jobs and selling almost everything she owns, she is not able to pay for her son Patrick’s heart surgery. She choked back tears as she described how her son has undergone four heart surgeries and needs a fifth. She said she no longer has health insurance and Broward Health Medical Center will not absorb the cost of the procedure, even though he needs it to survive.
She said her eldest son dropped out of college to get a job to help her pay for medical expenses.
“Courts like to do the right thing …,” Greene said in placing $50,000 in a trust for Patrick’s medical expenses. “I’m doing this for one reason, to afford Patrick medical care … this is what Mr. Novack would have wanted.”