From The Houston Chronicle:
Perry ”Bit” Whatley, 84, a former Baytown refinery worker and lifelong Texan, spent his final days in self-imposed exile, a fugitive from a more than two-year-old fight with the state probate courts.
Whatley was living in Arizona when he died, but it was not where he wanted to be, away from his home, cut off from his family and his $2 million fortune.
It was an unlikely, but perhaps unavoidable, end for the retired machinist, a frugal man who had wisely invested his savings in Humble Oil, which became Exxon, then Exxon Mobil. The investment made him a millionaire nearly twice over, and yet for 20 years after his retirement he lived a simple life in a simple Baytown bungalow until last summer, when he fled the jurisdiction of Harris County Probate Court.
Whatley died Feb. 14 in a rental home in Tempe in the company of his longtime caregiver, Dawn Johnson Whatley, 63, whom he married in a bedside ceremony in January 2005. His wife was his sole heir.
The Whatleys, both seniors with serious health problems, abandoned their own home and went into hiding together last summer. They left to avoid a hearing and, later, orders issued by Probate Judge Mike Wood that declared Whatley incapacitated, took away control of his assets and could have forced him into a nursing home.
Perry Whatley’s sad saga started out as a dispute between his niece and his new wife, two people who professed devotion to him and who also sought control over his fortune, his health care and his basic life decisions.
But the fight, taken to court in April 2005 by Whatley’s niece, morphed quickly into a twisted legal free-for-all and a near-infamous example for critics who claim Texas probate courts have run amok. It also underscores how worries over a loved one — seemingly simple at first — can escalate into a costly and chaotic legal conflict.
It took decades for Whatley to make his money.
In less than two years, nearly $1.5 million has been spent on legal bills and court-authorized expenses for his probate case and related litigation, based on case documents.
And though Whatley is gone, the fight over what remains of his money is far from over.
Read the rest of this disturbing story at The Houston Chronicle.
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