The Disney Family’s Real Life Soap Opera
Walt Disney's grandchildren are squabbling over their inheritance. It's a story with more twists and turns than Space Mountain.
November 26, 2013 - 4:00 pm
Growing up, I used to think that it would be cool to be a member of the Disney family. The Disney progeny should be the happiest family on earth – after all, they’re the heirs to all that Walt and Roy built. (Plus, imagine being able to visit the parks and resorts whenever you wanted.) Over the years, I’ve learned that the Disneys are pretty much just like any other family, only their squabbles are more public, with more at stake.
The first public dispute within the Disney family came when Roy O. Disney’s son, Roy E. Disney, fought to remove the company’s CEO Ron Miller, a former NFL player and the husband of Walt’s daughter, Diane, in 1984. (Similarly, Roy E. Disney pushed to remove Michael Eisner a decade and a half later.) Animator Steve Hulett writes:
I always kind of understood the wrestling match between Ron and Roy. They were members of the same family, and they were having a feud. Ron Miller thought the status quo was okay; Roy wanted more changes. Ron won the first round and Roy left the company, then Roy won the second round and Ron was forced out.
Now, the twin children of Walt’s other daughter, Sharon, are locked in a feud over their $400 million inheritance, and the story has more twists and turns than Space Mountain:
Once close siblings, Walt Disney’s grandkids Michelle and Brad Lund are now embroiled in a battle over their $400 and haven’t spoken in four years.
On one side are Brad Lund and the twins’ father Bill Lund. They say the trustees, who haven’t paid Brad his multi-million installments in years, are controlling Michelle like a ‘robot.’
In the other corner are Michelle and the trustees. They say Brad is mentally incompetent and cannot handle the millions and go so far as to suggest he has Down’s [sic] Syndrome, though he’s never been diagnosed.
When Sharon Disney Lund passed away in 1993, her will called for a group of trustees to dole out her children’s inheritance. The battle began in 2009, when Michelle Lund suffered an aneurysm and nearly lost her life. During her recovery, her father Bill tried to move her from California to Arizona, where he lives. The trustees stepped in and sued to block the move. That same year, the trustees blocked Brad’s payments, citing that they have “full discretion to withhold distributions if (the beneficiary) doesn’t demonstrate the maturity and financial ability to manage the funds wisely.”
Michelle and the trustees charge that Brad has a “chronic cognitive disability” and have even suggested that he has Down Syndrome, in spite of no medical diagnosis. Bill – who, incidentally, helped Walt procure the land for Walt Disney World long before he married Sharon – says that, while Brad does have “some learning issues,” he is capable of managing his own money. Bill and Brad make the accusation that Michelle is in fact the one suffering from brain damage as a result of her aneurysm.
According to Bill, the trustees are the ones pulling the strings:
‘It’s their career,’ Bill told NBC. ‘This is tragic. If Walt were here he’d be appalled. He’d be absolutely appalled and so would Sharon at the way the trustees have acted.’
Brad Lund agreed. He believes the trustees are the ones steering the ship, not his sister.
‘She’s being controlled by someone who’s got the remote control,’ he said. ‘Like she’s a robot. We’ve been at this for four years.’
On the other hand, both the twins’ half-sisters (from Bill’s first marriage) and the late Diane Disney Miller have charged that Bill is using Brad for his money. In the meantime, the twins have not spoken to each other since 2009. The case goes to court December 5, and with so many accusations flying in both directions, there’s no telling how much dirty laundry both sides will attempt to air. Stay tuned – we’ll see how this plays out.