13 Investigates


The State of Tony's Estate: One year after the tech mogul's unexpected death

Posted at 2:12 PM, Dec 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-10 21:31:54-05

LAS VEGAS, NV (KTNV) — Tony Hsieh is known for transforming customer service as he made employees' happiness his mission at Zappos, and he was the face of downtown Las Vegas' revitalization.

But his death has stirred up controversy and countless claims on his mega-millions.

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Now, a year following his death and days before his 48th birthday, 13 Investigates looks into the future of Hsieh's fortune.

Tony Hsieh's estate is worth at least $523 million and lots of people want a piece of it.

"There's really not a whole lot of other cases that we could even compare an estate that large," said estate and probate attorney Zach Holyoak.

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"That's partially due to the fact that most people with that size estate do some estate planning before they pass away," he added. "They typically handle their estates in a way that they can avoid the probate process altogether, like through a trust."

Hsieh died last November due to injuries suffered in a Connecticut house fire. He left no will, trust or estate plan. His father and brother were appointed administrators.

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"An administrator's duties are to gather the assets of a deceased person," says Holyoak. "Protect them and preserve them from theft or any other issue that may diminish those assets."

Holyoak is not involved with Tony Hsieh's case but can explain the process.

"The basic goal of the probate process is to take the assets that belong to somebody who's passed away and transfer them to the people who are rightfully entitled to receive them, while also ensuring that legitimate creditors are paid fairly and equitably," said Holyoak.

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When it comes to Hsieh's legacy, nothing is typical, especially considering his estate is measured in the hundreds of millions.

13 Investigates reviewed the court record and found more than $130 million in claims filed by a combination of about 10 individuals and companies.

The largest comes from Jennifer "Mimi" Pham, Tony's longtime close friend and personal assistant.

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Pham's claims add up to more than $90 million. $75 million of that from expected earnings from a film production company and documentary streaming platform.

Holyoak says claims on future earnings are not common, however, "I think it's a plausible claim, depending on what the underlying facts are and what the underlying basis of it is."

Pham also filed a claim for random items including two golf carts, a utility trailer, six electric bikes, clothing, artwork, furniture and Burning Man supplies stored in Hsieh's warehouse.

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And she's seeking nearly $3,500 for bills she says she paid on Hsieh's behalf. Pham's attorney, David Chesnoff, declined comment, citing pending litigation.

Another long-time Hsieh associate, Susan Baleson who owns Wellth Collective, filed a claim for $8,765,981.60.

A spokesperson for Wellth Collective provided the following statement:

The Wellth Collective and Beautiful Wellth Investments claims are straightforward and realistic in that they seek payment for services performed and actual expenditures, and are based on valid contractual agreements. They do not seek payment for future, unperformed services, or for any other reason. These parties simply want to be compensated for what they did for Mr. Hsieh in the past and, therefore, are legitimately owed."

Then, there's Mark Evensvold, who filed a $30 million claim based on a handwritten, nearly illegible post-it note he calls a contract. Evensvold claims he was to relocate to Park City, Utah with a promised $450,000 annual salary and a signing bonus that would include 20% of Hsieh's interest in the restaurant chain Nacho Daddy.

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"There are just so many ways that litigation can come in or that contested matters can drag out," says Holyoak.

The most recent claim comes from Life is Beautiful festival head Justin Weniger through his company, 1122 Holdings. He says he's owed a 27.7% equity interest in the music festival and is filing, "out of an abundance of caution...in case he's deemed to be a creditor" according to court documents.

Legal experts say contested and complex probate cases can take more than five years to wrap up, noting larger estates often bring larger problems.

A spokesperson for DTP COMPANIES which controls all of the properties Hsieh bought up to deliver happiness to downtown Las Vegas, says none of those buildings are listed for sale at this time.

So as the community comes to celebrate what would have been Tony's 48th birthday, his vision for Downtown remains as it was before he passed away.

Looking for more in-depth journalism? Find more 13 Action News investigative reports at ktnv.com/13Investigates.

Also, 13 Action News is tackling the critical issue of rapid growth head-on in our special series Meadows to Metropolis. View the series in full at ktnv.com/Growth.

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