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Kin Lose in Court on Israel Bequest

Law: A judge rules against the survivors of a Laguna Hills man who left $5 million to that nation's institutions. Pair seeking money say uncle was hoodwinked.


An Orange County judge on Monday refused to void the will of a Laguna Hills millionaire whose relatives say was conned out of his fortune by the state of Israel.

Superior Court Judge James P. Gray said 88-year-old Simon Lechtuz was of sound mind when he bequeathed $5 million directly to Israel's military, the Israel Institute of Technology and Hadassah Medical Center. Relatives say Lechtuz was coerced into the deal by a false promise that he would be buried in Israel.

But the judge said that claim was never proved.

"Mr. Lechtuz certainly had the hope that he would be able to be buried in a cemetery in Israel, but this he knew was not a condition to his bequest in his will," Gray said.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs--Lechtuz's niece, Yoseffa Teitel, and nephew, Philip Linder--argued that Lechtuz was fooled by legal fine print and wanted his estate divided among his relatives in the United States and Israel.

Although his will said he wished to be buried in Israel, Lechtuz was buried by a county public administrator at El Toro Memorial Cemetery.

The relatives, most of whom had never met Lechtuz, paid for him to be exhumed and reburied in Haifa, Israel.

Gray said this did not entitle the relatives to Lechtuz's fortune.

"He simply was not interested in leaving any of his money to his nieces and nephews," Gray said.

"Mr. Lechtuz was quoted as saying, 'I'm not close to relatives. They didn't do anything for me; let them earn it themselves.' "

Charles H. Kanter, the lawyer representing Israel and its Los Angeles consulate, said it was unfortunate that Lechtuz was buried in a secular county cemetery, but that it was not Israel's fault.

"What happened was, there were no nieces and nephews around when he died, and when you die alone you get buried by the public administrator," Kanter said.

"He was buried even before the state of Israel knew he died."

Plaintiffs' attorney Gary Kuist said relatives were considering an appeal.

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