Mama Cass, a lost Will & the Unsandwich

Ellen Naomi Cohen, who took the stage name Cass Elliot and was a member of the Mamas and the Papas, died in July 1974 aged 32 in London. The Mamas and the Papas had 11 top 40 singles and have sold around 100 million albums.

Cass was married to James Hendricks with whom she had a daughter, Owen, who was born in April 1967.

A widely reported untruth that Cass choked to death on a ham sandwich has persisted.

It has been attributed to the coroner who first examined the body who noticed a ham sandwich and a Coke on a table next to the bed where Cass’s body lay; as the body, did not display symptoms of any other sort of trauma,  He told the waiting media

“she appeared to have been eating a ham sandwich and drinking Coca-Cola while lying down — a very dangerous thing to do….She seemed to have choked on a ham sandwich”

He missed the fact that the sandwich was untouched, and a full autopsy showed that the actual cause of Elliot’s death was a heart attack.

It was also believed that she had died intestate but that too appears to have been incorrect.

Approximately 35 years after her death, it appears that Cass, made a Will, and its beneficiaries are suing the singer’s lawyers for malpractice, negligent misrepresentation, and fraud for not disclosing the Wills whereabouts.

Cass had a Will prepared in 1967, but the firm advised her heirs in 1974, when she died,

“that due search and inquiry have been made to ascertain if said deceased left any Will and testament, but none has been found, and according to the best knowledge, information and belief of your petitioner said deceased died intestate.”

Accordingly, Cass’s estate was distributed in accordance with California intestate law to her daughter.

In 2011 Cass’s sister, Leah came across information that led her to believe that a Will existed. She contacted the law firm who prepared the Will and it was located. Cass’s Will, provided a one-third share of her estate to her mother, Bess, who died in March 1994 leaving her estate to her son & daughter in equal shares; as a corollary the one-third interest in Cass’s estate would have passed to her brother & sister.

Although Cass’s estate was insolvent when she died, as it includes royalties from her music, it has allegedly produced millions of dollars since that time.  Cass’s brother and sister argue therefore that their mother, and through their mother’s will, they have lost the one-third share in Cass’s estate due to the lawyer’s legal malpractice.

Cass Elliot had made plans for her daughter’s future when she was in her 20’s. The fact that due to oversight her estate wasn’t distributed in the way she wanted has meant that her siblings had to commence legal action in an attempt to redress the rules imposed by intestacy.



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