(CN) – Children of the late Rocky Aoki have no basis to challenge the will that gave their stepmother sole control of the famed teppanyaki steakhouse chain, Benihana, a New York appeals court ruled.
Aoki died in July 2008 at the age of 68, leaving his widow, Keiko, in charge of his entire global interest in the Benihana restaurants and franchises held by the Benihana of Tokyo parent company, which is a majority shareholder of the publicly traded Benihana.
In a 2006 interview with New York Magazine, Aoki said some of his seven children thought that Keiko, his third wife, was a “gold digger.” He added that he had “three kids from three different women at exactly the same time.”
Six of Aoki’s children were born to the former Olympic wrestler’s first two wives. He had no children with Keiko during their six-year marriage.
Aoki was suing four of his children at the time of the New York Magazine interview for trying to wrest control of his companies.
The New York County Surrogate’s Court admitted the will to probate in September 2010, but four of Rocky Aoki’s children, Kana, Kevin, Echo and Kyle, objected.
They argued that the will should be examined more closely before going to probate, claiming that issues of fact existed regarding Rocky’s mental capacity and their stepmother’s influence.
The Benihana restaurant chain, which grew from one Manhattan location that opened in 1963, staggered in 1998 when Aoki was convicted of felony insider trading.
In a 2005 letter to Kana, Rocky said he would be happy to leave “seven equal shares to my wife and six kids after I die if everyone can get along.”
Rocky was diagnosed with liver cancer in 2007. He tried to reconcile with his children without success. He wrote them a letter accusing them of destroying Benihana, his “baby.”
His final will gave 25 percent of estate assets to Keiko, and put her in charge of a trust controlling the remaining 75 percent to distribute among his children at her discretion.
The Appellate Division’s Manhattan-based First Department upheld approval of the will on Tuesday.
“The evidence indicated that Rocky had cognitive issues as a result of side effects of medication (interferon) that he was taking; but Rocky discontinued using interferon before 2002,” the unsigned opinion states. “Since that time, the record strongly indicates that Rocky was indeed of sound mind and memory, and remained so at the time he signed his will in 2007.”
Keiko and various corporate entities associated with Benihana are also engaged in dueling lawsuits, in Delaware and Florida, over the direction of the company.