Heirs to former Texas Gov. Dolph Briscoe Jr’s $1 billion fortune at war over how to split the estate

Heirs to former Texas Gov. Dolph Briscoe Jr’s  billion fortune at war over how to split the estate


The heiress of one of the largest ranching dynasties in the state of Texas is suing her brother over a controlling stake in the 660,000-acre holdings of land that was  assembled over decades by their father, former State Governor Dolph Briscoe Jr., who died in 2010. 

One of his daughters, Cele Carpenter, 65, married a family of well-known Dallas business leaders and in the lawsuit is accuses her older brother, 68-year-old Dolph ‘Chip’ Briscoe III, of plotting to gain control over an inheritance that has valued at more than $1 billion.

Issues arose after their sister, Janey Briscoe Marmion, changed the will before her death from cancer in 2018. 

Dolph (second from left) and Janey Briscoe (second from right) are shown in an official campaign portrait with their children Janey, Dolph III (Chip) and Cele at the Frio Ranch. Dolph Briscoe Jr. was elected Texas governor in 1972

Dolph (second from left) and Janey Briscoe (second from right) are shown in an official campaign portrait with their children Janey, Dolph III (Chip) and Cele at the Frio Ranch. Dolph Briscoe Jr. was elected Texas governor in 1972

Dolph Briscoe, Governor of Texas from 1972 until 1978, was the largest individual landowner and rancher in a state famous for its huge ranches. He was one of the most respected businessmen in Texas, with a portfolio that included banks, agribusinesses, cattle, and oil and gas properties. He is pictured with wife Janey, left, and three children in a picture from the 50s

Dolph Briscoe, Governor of Texas from 1972 until 1978, was the largest individual landowner and rancher in a state famous for its huge ranches. He was one of the most respected businessmen in Texas, with a portfolio that included banks, agribusinesses, cattle, and oil and gas properties. He is pictured with wife Janey, left, and three children in a picture from the 50s

The West Texas ranch lands are where the former governor grew up during the Great Depression but his three children all went off in different directions

The West Texas ranch lands are where the former governor grew up during the Great Depression but his three children all went off in different directions

Janey left no heirs to the land after her own daughter, Kate, died after being shot in 2008 when she was a sophomore in college.

She died from a gunshot wound to the chest. News reports at the time detail how a county judge ruled her death an accident. 

But her death altered how the future of the Briscoe family fortune would be shared and the families of the surviving siblings, Cele and Chip are now fighting in court over how to divide up Janey’s portion of the Briscoe fortune. 

With Janey no longer having an heir, she decided to rewrite her will in order for her share of the inheritance money to be split among her niece and nephews.

It meant that Cele’s family which consisted of three children would ultimately receive more than brother Chip’s, who had only two kids. Yet Cele’s children would have a greater say in the future of the ranch holdings. 

Pallbearers carry the casket of former Texas Governor Dolph Briscoe at his July 2010 funeral

Pallbearers carry the casket of former Texas Governor Dolph Briscoe at his July 2010 funeral

Former Texas Governor Dolph Briscoe at his Uvalde, Texas ranch in 1997

Former Texas Governor Dolph Briscoe at his Uvalde, Texas ranch in 1997

The estate includes banks, a small sporting goods store as well as land, 15,000 cattle and even oil wells consisting of 600,000 acres stretching over 10 counties that Forbes valued at $1.3 billion in 2015.

A lawsuit filed in Dallas County court reveals how Cele didn’t find out that her three children had in fact been cut out of Janey’s will until the day the family buried her.

Filing suit in Uvalde County, west of San Antonio, where much of the sprawling ranchland sits, a judge approved Janey’s will making her brother the executor.

But earlier versions of the will saw Janey’s one-third share of the Briscoe holdings split equally among her five nieces and nephews.

Court filings seen by the Wall Street Journal see Chip mocking his younger sister’s move to North Texas, referring to her as the ‘Dallas’ family.

Cele alleges that Chip persuaded sister Janey to modify her will in 2014, effectively cutting the Carpenter heirs out of a portion of their inheritance. 

Janey Briscoe and her husband former Texas Governor Dolph Briscoe in front of their Uvalde, Texas ranch home in 1997

Janey Briscoe and her husband former Texas Governor Dolph Briscoe in front of their Uvalde, Texas ranch home in 1997

They say Chip worked in a change to Janey’s estate documents so that none of her assets would go to Cele’s children with Chip’s family able seize control of the business.  

The suit states how Chip resented that she would have control over the West Texas ranchland  where the former governor grew up during the Great Depression. 

Although Governor Briscoe worked out of the State Capitol in Austin from 1972 serving two terms and leading the state during its oil and gas boom years.

After he failed to win a third term, he returned to the ranch buying up more and more land from anyone selling west of San Antonio.

The former governor focused on his ranch while his three children all headed off on different paths. 

The oldest, Janey, got married to a South Texas rancher. The youngest, Cele, married Dallas-area developer John Carpenter III. Middle child, Chip, studied in Austin at the University of Texas before following in his father’s footsteps as a rancher, managing the ranch since his father passed away in 2010.

Janey Briscoe Marmion, pictured in green. She died from cancer at the age if 68 in 2018. She is pictured here in 2013

Janey Briscoe Marmion, pictured in green. She died from cancer at the age if 68 in 2018. She is pictured here in 2013  

After former governor died at the age of 87, the relationship between Chip and Cele also collapsed, the lawsuit details.  

When their sister, Janey was diagnosed with cancer, she told her siblings she would give half of her inheritance to charity in the name of her daughter in order to promote southwestern Texas art and heritage. 

The remainder was intended to be distributed equally between her five nephews and nieces, although that would be giving Cele a slight majority. 

When Janey died from cancer at the age of 68, Chip told his sister Cele about the newly revised will which gave a larger portion of Janey’s holdings to the charity named after her daughter Kate while making Chip executor.

The remainder of the estate went to Chip’s two children with Cele’s children completely removed.

Former Governor Dolph Briscoe Jr., his daughter Janey Briscoe Marmion and her daughter Kate Marmion, who died after being shot by a rifle in 2008

Former Governor Dolph Briscoe Jr., his daughter Janey Briscoe Marmion and her daughter Kate Marmion, who died after being shot by a rifle in 2008

Cele Carpenter, right, is at the center of a lawsuit which is has the remaining siblings at war. Uvalde Memorial Hospital development specialist (left) Sheri Rutledge gives Benjamin Carpenter and Cele Briscoe Carpenter a tour of the new MRI scanner, pictured in November 2021

Cele Carpenter, right, is at the center of a lawsuit which is has the remaining siblings at war. Uvalde Memorial Hospital development specialist (left) Sheri Rutledge gives Benjamin Carpenter and Cele Briscoe Carpenter a tour of the new MRI scanner, pictured in November 2021

‘The changes in Janey’s estate serve no purpose other than to benefit Chip and his family while cutting out Cele and her family entirely,’ the suit states.

Eight months after Janey’s funeral, Cele’s legal reps told Chip that she would be contesting the new will and the decision by an Uvalde County court judge that saw her brother being approved as the executor. Cele also then went on to sue in Dallas County.  

David Beck, Chip’ lawyer, said Cele’s family is trying to contest a will that wasdesigned to preserve the family business.

‘In our view, Janey’s sister Cele wants to break up the Briscoe Ranch. In their pleadings, the Carpenters (Cele) have said some very hurtful and untrue things against Chip,’ Beck said. 

‘Whether the Carpenters think leaving money to charity is rational or not, that is exactly what Janey wanted; it was her money. Although not a beneficiary of her will, as executor of Janey’s estate, I will defend Janey’s estate plan and preserve Kate’s memory and Janey’s wishes for the Kate Marmion Charitable Foundation.’ 

‘The three, ‘although already wealthy in their own right, filed this will contest seeking to overturn Janey’s estate plan and take in excess of half a billion dollars from Kate’s foundation to put in their own coffers,’ Chip Briscoe stated in a filing.

Janey Briscoe and her husband former Texas Governor Dolph Briscoe, aboard their private plane en-route from San Antonio to their Uvalde, Texas ranch in 1997

Janey Briscoe and her husband former Texas Governor Dolph Briscoe, aboard their private plane en-route from San Antonio to their Uvalde, Texas ranch in 1997

Former Texas Governor Dolph Briscoe, Honorary Grand Marshal, waves as he takes part in Fiesta's Battle of Flowers Parade in San Antonio, in 2008

Former Texas Governor Dolph Briscoe, Honorary Grand Marshal, waves as he takes part in Fiesta’s Battle of Flowers Parade in San Antonio, in 2008

‘In what can only be described as breathtaking audacity, they attack their aunt for leaving so much money to charity instead of to them. Waiting until Janey can no longer defend herself, they allege that Janey ‘lacked the necessary capacity’ to execute her estate plan,’ he adds. 

Cele maintains she has no interest in breaking up Briscoe Ranch Inc. or taking operational control away from her brother. 

She said that her father was ‘scrupulous’ in his estate planning ‘to ensure that his three children … share equally in the ownership and benefits of the family’s assets, its vast ranching operations, valuable oil and gas interests and large banking business.’ 

The suit seeks more than $1 million in damages. 



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