Settlement ends Johnson & Johnson estate battle


NEW YORK -- A former chambermaid and cook for pharmaceutical magnate J. Seward Johnson walked away from a courtroom with $300 million from his will -- a Cinderella ending to a bitter estate battle with her late husband's six children.

Lawyers for Barbara Johnson, 49, the third and last wife of J. Seward Johnson, reached a settlement with her stepchildren and an oceanographic foundation Monday, just as the rancorous inheritance fight was drawing to a close in Manhattan Surrogate Court.


Under the agreement, Mrs. Johnson keeps $300 million, her six stepchildren will divide $42.5 million and $20 million will go to the Florida-based Harbor Branch Foundation, started by Johnson in 1971.

What the participants in the court battle did not receive from the Johnson estate of nearly $500 million went to the government in taxes.

During the 15-week trial, each side accused the other of cruelty and greed, with the children claiming their stepmother was a scheming schrew, and she countering that her stepchildren were concerned only for their father's riches.


Judge Marie Lambert said she received 'threats of physical violence' and said it took 'personal courage' to sit through the trial.

Frustrated jurors said the settlement, reached in the final hours of the trial, robbed them of the chance to decide whether to divide up the wealth left to Mrs. Johnson by her husband.

Johnson said she bore 'no ill will' toward the children who tried to wrest away her inheritance by portraying their father as a senile man bullied by his overbearing wife.

'I feel sad they ridiculed their father in this way,' Johnson said.

But J. Seward Johnson Jr., the eldest son, claimed the court battle benefited older people worldwide by exposing 'the degree to which the elderly are susceptable to both being misunderstood and taken advantage of.'

'We made the point we wanted to make, that you don't take advantage of a man finishing his life, a man elderly and weak,' Johnson said.

Attorneys began working on the settlement last Thursday, after Mrs. Johnson's lawyers finished presenting their case. She never testified. The out-of-court settlement, however, was not formally announced until Monday after days of rumor and speculation.

Johnson disinherited all his children because he felt he had given them enough Johnson & Johnson stock during his lifetime to make them financially independent.


Johnson -- 42 years older than his third wife, his former chambermaid and cook -- signed his last will on April 14, 1983, shortly before his death of prostate cancer at 87.

Johnson was the son of druggest Robert Wood Johnson, who founded Johnson & Johnson in 1887 with two brothers based on the popularity of an adhesive tape he invented to secure dressings.

Known as Basia, Mrs. Johnson emigrated from Poland to the United States as a penniless art student and worked in the Johnson home prior to the wedding. She was married to the drug magnate for 12 years.

Mrs. Johnson apparently signed a letter agreeing to give a $72 million charitable trust to Harbor Branch, although the will left the beneficiary up to her.

One disputed point in the trial was whether the letter was legally binding.

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