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Did Russian Billionaire Who Died Mysteriously Have an Estate Plan?

Troy Werner and his family

Written by Troy Werner

Troy Werner has been an indispensable asset to The Werner Law Firm since joining in 2009, providing exceptional legal service to its clients.

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POSTED ON: August 16, 2023

On December 4, real estate baron Dmitry Zelenov became one of the latest Russian oligarchs to mysteriously pass away after he got ill during a dinner party in the French Riviera, fell over a stair railing and succumbed to critical head injuries.

French police suspected no wrongdoing in the death of real estate baron Dmitry Zelenov. However, they are still investigating his unusual and untimely death. The case then spiraled into a fight amongst the family in probate court.

At just 50, he left behind a wife and four children (his family learned of one minor after his death)—but no will or estate plan to divvy up his assets, reports Forbes’ recent article entitled, “Former Russian Billionaire Mysteriously Died Last Year. Now His Family Is Feuding Over His Fortune.”

Less than two months later, some of his family members say they've been locked out of his fortune.

According to a complaint filed in Florida probate court, his widow, Natalia Dvoryanynova, and their adult son, Michael Zelenov, have filed suit against Dmitry Zelenov’s parents, adult daughter, and financial advisor. They claim that they attempted to disinherit them.

For example, the complaint says that the defendants changed the locks on the couple’s Moscow home and took more than two dozen of his cars—including four Mercedes, two Bentleys and a Rolls Royce—collectively worth more than seven figures.

Once one of the youngest billionaires in Russia—and all of Europe—Zelenov entered Forbes’ billionaire ranks in 2008 at 36 and built his fortune largely through a vast commercial real estate empire in his home country.

Zelenov co-founded the construction giant Don-Stroy in the 1990s, building numerous shopping centers across Russia and the 61-story Triumph Palace skyscraper in Moscow, Europe’s tallest apartment building when it opened in 2003.

However, his fortune was diminished when the real estate market crumbled globally during the Great Recession. It’s unclear just how much Zelenov’s assets are now worth. Even the plaintiffs acknowledge they're unsure what he was worth. However, the complaint lists bank accounts, jewelry, and cars. Dvoryanynova’s attorneys note that the assets include "tens of millions of dollars" in Russian real estate and as much as $90 million in France.

All in all, not an ideal way to leave your wealth or legacy to your loved ones.

The goal generally is to avoid probate court. The time and expense involved in probate court, along with the litigation that can come of not having an estate plan, can essentially destroy everything people have built for their loved ones.

If you want to set up your estate planning to avoid this, or if you are going through a probate case, we're here to help.  Our Los Angeles probate lawyers can help you navigate the process and figure out a game plan to help with the home.

If you have any probate questions, schedule a free appointment with us through our online appointment page. We would be happy to see how we can help.

You can also read reviews from some of the hundreds of clients we have helped over the years.

Reference: Forbes (Feb. 3, 2023) “Former Russian Billionaire Mysteriously Died Last Year. Now His Family Is Feuding Over His Fortune”

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