BEHIND THE NEWS: Heiress to be out of sight when judge decides fate

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Attorneys will gather in a Marion County courtroom Aug. 7 to ask a judge to appoint personal guardians for Ruth Lilly. They’ll argue that she’s incapacitated and incapable of making decisions for herself.

It’s one of the most pivotal moments in the life of the heir to the pharmaceutical fortune, who turns 91 Aug. 2. But court records indicate she won’t be present.

That’s perhaps fitting. The sole surviving greatgrandchild of the pharmaceutical firm’s founder has led a reclusive life, weighed down by physical ailments and depression. As an adult, she’s rarely appeared in public, even as she emerged as one of the nation’s top philanthropists.

Her fortune was valued at more than $1 billion when an Indianapolis judge four years ago approved a new estate plan that set aside hundreds of millions of dollars for the Ruth Lilly Philanthropic Foundation, the Lilly Endowment, the Chicago-based Poetry Foundation and the Washington, D.C.-based Americans for the Arts.

Court involvement in Lilly’s affairs is nothing new. Way back in 1981, a judge concluded she was incapable of managing her property and appointed a local bank, now National City, to serve as conservator of her estate.

Now, though, National City and Lilly’s six nieces and nephews are going a step further.

Court records filed by their attorneys last month say a March medical examination found “Ruth Lilly’s capacity to make informed legal and economic judgments remains impaired, and that her condition has now deteriorated such that she is incapable of making personal and medical decisions and would be best served by a personal guardianship.”

National City and Lilly family members want Judge Charles Deiter to appoint her nephew Eli “Ted” Lilly II of Carmel and her niece Ruth Virginia Lilly Nicholas of Boston as personal guardians.

In a court filing, Tom Ewbank, a Krieg DeVault partner who has served as Lilly’s personal attorney for a decade, said he has consulted with Lilly five times about the guardianship petition. He said she’s OK with the judge granting it.

“While she does not agree with all the allegations in the petition, due to her age and her health, Ruth Lilly has authorized me” to consent to the request, Ewbank’s filing said.

It’s not clear on which points she disagrees. Ewbank was out of the country on vacation and could not be reached. Other attorneys who’ll have a role in the hearing either did not return calls or declined to comment.

The most critical testimony at the hearing likely will come from Dr. Daniel Luchins, director of the geriatric clinic in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Chicago. Luchins, whose curriculum vitae runs 21 pages, conducted the March evaluation.

Court records cite other evidence Lilly has lost her grip over her personal affairs. For example, they note she failed to dole out $4.6 million of the $10 million in gifts to charity she planned to make in 2005.

Under the guardianship proposal, responsibility for doling out her $10 million in annual gifts would shift to the Ruth Lilly Philanthropic Foundation, which is overseen by the nieces and nephews. She also would lose authority to use a credit card or write checks on a household-expenses account.

Lilly hasn’t attended past court hearings, and court records show Deiter isn’t requiring she attend this one.

The guardianship order that National City and Lilly family members have asked him to sign says, “Ruth Lilly was not present at the hearing. Based on the evidence presented, the court determined that it was not in Ruth Lilly’s best interest to be present because of a threat to her health.”

Lilly, divorced and without children, has had serious health problems almost her entire life.

One of her doctors has said she may have begun suffering from anxiety and fear of public places from around the age of 10. At the time, her father received word that his children might be kidnapped, which led him to hire armed guards to shuttle them to school.

Court records show her health took a turn for the worse this past spring. In January, Deiter gave his OK for her to take an entourage of 39 people to a seaside destination in California. The trip was to include up to 24 of her paid staff, including four doctors and 10 nurses. It was expected to cost as much as $525,000.

The flight was scheduled to depart March 30. But late that month, she experienced a “sudden downturn” in her health, forcing her hospitalization March 29 and the cancellation of the trip.


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