Legitimate probate claim or trolling for dollars?

Legal proceedings face uphill battle
David Hasemyer (david.hasemyer@uniontrib.com)
September 1, 2008
The San Diego Union-Tribune
SAN DIEGO COURTS – Curtis “Doc” Beauchamp revolutionized dentistry in the early 1900s.  Providing care for patients who paid what they could, he built the foundation for an empire that would expand to more than 200 dental offices across the West with an estimated worth of $400 million.

But along the way, some of Doc’s descendants claim they were cut out of the fortune built on the Beauchamp name.

Now that branch of the family has filed a lawsuit in San Diego Superior Court seeking a share of the money they maintain Doc intended for them when he was on his deathbed in 1939.

The litigation flows on undercurrents of wealth, greed and betrayal among a divergent family whose members all trace their roots to Doc, and a business strategy that became successful beyond belief.

Curtis Beauchamp was 22 and a newly licensed dentist in the budding city of Los Angeles in 1903 when he conceived the idea of operating multiple dental offices and using advertising to lure patients – both innovative practices at the time.

“My grandfather was absolutely a genius,” said Jim Brown, one of six grandchildren and great-grandchildren who filed the suit, which faces numerous legal obstacles and a judge who is not convinced they have a case.

As Los Angeles exploded, Beauchamp’s business thrived on the promise of convenient, low-cost care.

“The idea was to first serve people and get them the dental care they needed – and the money would follow,” said Brown, a businessman in Aliso Viejo.

Doc wanted it to become a legacy carried on by his children. In 1939, a critically ill Curtis Beauchamp directed his wife to sell Dr. Beauchamp Dental to their son, Robert Beauchamp, after his death.

But there was a proviso – one that the lawsuit’s plaintiffs contend goes to the heart of how the $400 million empire now should be divided.

Robert Beauchamp, who became a dentist in 1939, obtained his father’s dental practice and four offices for $12,000 on the condition that he equally divide the proceeds from the business and any sale of the business among his four siblings, according to the lawsuit.

Robert Beauchamp took the idea of multiple offices and low-cost dentistry to extraordinary heights. He was known as the “credit dentist” and made millions offering no-interest credit and inexpensive services.

In 1989, Robert Beauchamp bought Western Dental Services and merged it with Dr. Beauchamp Dental to form Dr. Beauchamp Western Dental, one of the largest dental organizations in the United States.

In the early 1990s, Robert Beauchamp transferred 90 percent of stock in Western Dental to his five children.

Robert Beauchamp died in 1998. His children acquired the remaining 10 percent of the stock and sold Western Dental in 2006 for an estimated $400 million. The lawsuit contends that Robert Beauchamp’s children ignored their grandfather’s dying wish – to share the wealth.

“If (the Beauchamps) are not required to pay plaintiffs their respective share of the sale proceeds they will be unjustly enriched,” the lawsuit states.

Attorney Jeff Fink represents Jim Brown and five relatives and argues they are entitled to split a 20 percent share of the sale based on the 1939 agreement.

Fink reasons that when Curtis Beauchamp’s daughter, Glenna Brown, died in 1976, her children and grandchildren became beneficiaries of the 1939 agreement.

“The intent of the agreement was that Doc’s descendants would benefit,” Fink said.

Lawyers for Robert Beauchamp’s family say Jim Brown and the others are trying to latch onto a fortune using flimsy logic and claims that cannot be supported in court.

There are no provisions in the 1939 will and sales agreement entitling the heirs of Beauchamp’s brothers and sisters to any proceeds, states a response filed by the Beauchamps’ Los Angeles attorney Benjamin Fox, who declined to comment and advised the Beauchamps to remain quiet.

Fox argues the documents clearly state the conditions apply only to Robert Beauchamp’s brothers and sisters “during their lifetime.”

There are no other beneficiaries spelled out by Curtis Beauchamp and no provisions that allow Robert Beauchamp’s siblings to pass on the benefits to their descendants.

Judge Joan M. Lewis has so far agreed with Fox and the Beauchamps, saying in a tentative ruling last month that the Browns and their family aren’t entitled to proceeds of the sale because there was nothing in the records that indicate anybody beyond Doc’s children should benefit.

The Browns and their lawyer are hoping to change Lewis’ mind before her opinion becomes final.

They have argued that Doc’s intent was to make sure all of his family benefited from his entrepreneurial spirit no matter how far the family tree branched.

“To Doc, it was all about family,” said John Brown, a San Diego contractor and Jim Brown’s nephew. “He wanted all of his family taken care of, not just a part of his family.”

  • John Brown

    My Mom’s older Sister, the executor of the Estate of Aunt “Betty” filed a 850 petition against Dick, David. Robert jr., Beauchamp in Probate….in Tulare County, California. They, received “Standing” to pursue their action..ALL of the Siblings have now been forced to sue in order to get their 20% share, based on my Great grandfathers Intent made in his will of His family dental business.

  • admin

    To John Brown:

    Please feel free to forward any media reports or updates as the case(s) progress. Thanks.