Potato chip heiress wins back control of fortune

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — The heiress to the Golden Flake potato chip empire is for now back in control of her fortune after a ruling Thursday by the Alabama Supreme Court.

The court voided a 2019 probate order granting an emergency conservator that came after two employees claimed that 88-year-old Joann Bashinsky has dementia and is mentally unfit to handle her vast estate.

Justices said Bashinsky’s basic due-process rights were egregiously violated when the probate court made the emergency decision without giving her time to obtain counsel after her lawyers were disqualified. The permanent petition remains pending before the court.

Joann Bashinsky is the widow of Sloan Y. Bashinsky, Sr. who owned the majority stock in Golden Enterprises, Inc., and who was the founder, chairman, and chief executive officer of Golden Flake Foods. Her personal estate is estimated to be worth $80 million, and her entire estate was valued at $218 million.

Pennsylvania-based Utz Quality Foods bought Golden Enterprises for $141 million in 2016.

Joann Bashinsky has been locked in a legal battle with two former employees who claim she has dementia and is no longer able to manage her estate. The petition to appoint a conservator came after Bashinsky loaned her only grandson $23 million for his business ventures.

The employees said the grandson has undue influence over his grandmother. Bashinsky’s lawyers have disputed that she has dementia and that she wants to help her only grandson and heir.

Justices said the situation did not merit an emergency action by the probate court.

Justices said the petitioners and the probate judge “may all firmly believe that Ms. Bashinsky’s generosity to her grandson is financially unwise, and they may be correct in that judgment.”

“But such a concern is not an occasion for invoking the emergency procedures afforded a court as a result of which Ms. Bashinsky was admittedly deprived of proper notice of the hearing and, more egregiously, not given the opportunity at that hearing to present her own explanations for her behavior.”