Money & Power

America's Last Princess From Hawaii Is in a Legal Battle Over $215 Million Fortune

And this country's only royal residence is caught up in the case.
IMAGE CRAIG T. KOJIMA/HONOLULU STAR-ADVERTISER/AP
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American excitement for the British royal family has reached fever pitch in 2018, as California-born Meghan Markle prepares to marry Prince Harry. But what many don't realize is that the U.S. has its own royalty: 91-year-old Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Kawananakoa, who many consider to be the last Hawaiian princess.

Hawaii was a monarchy until a U.S.-backed coup overthrew it in 1893; Kawananakoa is the granddaughter of the late Prince David Kawananakoa.

The royal family still holds a rarified place in the minds of Hawaiians, says Kimo Alama Keaulana, assistant professor of Hawaiian language and studies at Honolulu Community College. "She was always called princess among Hawaiians because Hawaiians have acknowledged that lineage. Hawaiians hold dear to genealogy. And so genealogically speaking, she is of high royal blood."

While Kawananakoa has no official status or duties, she has long been a financial supporter of the Iolani Palace, America's only royal residence and a popular Hawaiian tourist destination, as well as other native Hawaiian causes.

But this week, she's making headlines for a legal battle over her $215 million fortune, much of which stems from an inheritance. Her great-grandfather was James Campbell, an Irish businessman in the sugar industry, and one of Hawaii's largest landowners.

Kawananakoa's former lawyer, James Wright, is arguing that the heiress is impaired and unable to make decisions about the distribution of her assets. In July of 2016, Wright filed a petition asking to be named successor trustee to all of her trust assets, stating that Kawananakoa is "impaired as a result of an acute stroke" in court documents. The petition also suggested that Veronica Gail Worth, Kawananakoa's then-girlfriend, now wife (pictured to the right of Kawananakoa in the photo above), was abusing her.

A judge granted the petition, and now Kawananakoa is fighting it. In August, her new lawyer, Michael Lilly, wrote a letter to the judge strongly contesting the incompetence claim and denying the reports of abuse. Then in September, a judge appointed a special investigator to independently look into the claims.

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In the meantime, payments to Iolani Palace have stopped and the property has relied on backup funding to stay open. A hearing regarding the investigation has tentatively been scheduled for February 8.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

*This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com
*Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors

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