A former insurance agent has agreed to settle for $1.6 million with the family of a deceased client over an estate dispute.
The family of LeRoy Ern of Milwaukee, WI is getting back nearly all of his money, according to a settlement reached just before the case was to go to trial earlier this week.
“They were not going to get anything,” Kevin Demet, who represents 11 of Ern’s 12 nieces and nephews, told Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “So that’s a big win.”
In 2016, former agent Blanche Berenzweig collected a $1.6 million inheritance from the estate of Ern. Ern had dementia and lived the life of a recluse; he eventually died of his medical condition at the age of 92, leaving everything to Berenzweig, who was then a financial adviser.
Over the last few years of his life, Ern had befriended Berenzweig, who once sold him an annuity. Ern would occasionally visit Berenzweig’s office in Mequon, WI to discuss topics such as history and world events, records show.
It was during this time that Berenzweig was named Ern’s power of attorney for health and medical issues, as well as the sole beneficiary of two annuities, and executor and sole beneficiary of his estate. She was even responsible for arranging Ern’s private funeral and cremation.
According to state records, Berenzweig collected $276,648 from one annuity a month after Ern’s death from advanced dementia. The next month, she collected another $734,467 from a second policy.
Citing Ern’s failing health and the potential for abuse, his nieces and nephews objected to the will in Milwaukee County Circuit Court, saying Berenzweig had illegally pressured Ern into naming her the sole beneficiary.
In June, state regulators ordered Berenzweig to give the annuity money to the estate, with the trial scheduled for this week. However, Berenzweig’s own deteriorating health condition prompted the settlement talks.
“It became evident ... that she could not handle a full trial,” said Michael Ganzer, Berenzweig’s lawyer. “She wanted to be back to square one.”
As part of the settlement, Berenzweig will only get to keep up to $150,000 to cover her attorney fees and associated costs.
Her insurance license was revoked in June by Wisconsin State Insurance Commissioner Ted Nickel. During a 2017 hearing over her license, records said that her client Ern had little contact with relatives, and that his home was a fire trap – filled with piles of newspaper, junk, and food.