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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Court grants state half the inheritance of Netanya Park Hotel victims

I don't know how many of you will recognize the name of the Park Hotel in Netanya, so let me just say, "Seder Night bombing, Netanya, 2002," and I am sure most of you will remember. If you don't remember, look here. Two of the people killed in that terror attack were a couple of Holocaust survivors - Ernest Weiss and Eva Weiss HY"D of Petach Tikva. In the kind of court decision that only a tax man could love, the Israeli Family Court in its infinite wisdom decided on Friday that the State of Israel is entitled to half of the Weiss' estate. You can't make this stuff up! I'll let Haaretz take it from here:
In a precedent-setting verdict, the Tel Aviv Family Court ruled Friday that the state shall receive half the inheritance of a couple, Holocaust survivors, who were both killed in the 2002 terrorist attack on the Park Hotel in Netanya. Relatives will have to make do with the other half of the estate.

Eva and Ernst Weiss, 73 and 79, respectively at their deaths, met in Transylvania before World War II. Most of their relatives were killed in the Holocaust, and they immigrated to Israel together in 1963. Eva's mother, her last of kin, died on the Seder eve eight years ago. Four years later, as every year, Eva and Ernst spent the Seder eve at the Park Hotel. Minutes before the meal was about to begin, a suicide bomber blew himself up in the dining room, killing 29 people, among them the Weisses.

A short while later, the Custodian General at the Justice Ministry requested that half their estate be transferred to his care. The estate is not vast - as far as is known, it includes an apartment in Petah Tikva and a sum of money, together worth an estimated $500,000. The state argued that the couple has no children or immediate relatives, and Eva has no next of kin. Their sole relatives are cousins and the descendants of Ernst's cousins. The state demanded that Eva's share of the joint inheritance go to the Custodian General, while Ernst's share go to his relatives.

The Custodian General reasoned that a legal heir might appear someday, so his share of the inheritance must be safeguarded. Ernst's 15 heirs, some of whom had been in close touch with the couple for decades, petitioned the family court to reject the state's request.

The legal battle lasted four years, and included discussion of the macabre question - Which spouse died first in the bombing? If the state had been able to prove that Eva died even a few minutes after her husband, then she would have inherited her husband's estate in those minutes, and since she has no relatives, the entire property would have gone to the state. On the other hand, if the family had been able to prove that Ernst died minutes after his wife, the state's claims would have had no merit, since he had willed all of his property (including that left to him by his wife at her death) to his relatives.

However, the court did not ultimately deal with this issue, and decided that this was a case of "two dying as one," at the very same moment. In this situation, Judge Shaul Shohet explains in his verdict, there are two "doubtful heirs" - the state and the relatives - whom no one can prove has total right to Eva's estate. The judge in this case preferred the state, since there is no blood connection between Ernst's relatives and Eva.

The relatives, some of them elderly Holocaust survivors themselves, are outraged by the verdict. They describe the warm family ties that existed between them and the couple for decades - ties based on their being lone survivors of a large family that perished in the Holocaust.

"This is absurd. What right do they have to take [this] - I do not know. It's a disgrace," says Irene Gross, Ernst's cousin. "If they were alive this would not be happening. If they had wanted the state to get their money, they would have made a will," says Katrina Schwartz, another of Ernst's relatives.

The relatives' lawyer, Yosef Tussia-Cohen, said that the verdict "cries out to the heavens."
Too bad there's no "Neal Chyette, looking at the law" here to try to explain this one. Amazing that Israel has (apparently) not adopted the Uniform Simultaneous Death Act as they have in the States. But the idea that an heir for Eva is suddenly going to appear out of nowhere is a load of nonsense.


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