A South Carolina probate court affirmed the validity of a hand-written will from Lisa Lombardi, Tucker Carlson's estranged biological mother, that leaves Carlson and his brother "one dollar each." The document was discovered after a California court had already settled portions of the Lombardi estate in a manner that left it equally split among three people: Lombardi's surviving husband, Carlson, and Carlson's brother.
Following the unexpected firing of Fox News personality Tucker Carlson on April 25, 2023, a flurry of claims — both old and new — about the conservative commentator went viral. One long-standing assertion regarding Carson is that his mother left him only $1 in her will:
The claim stems from documents produced amid a multi-generational legal dispute over the inheritance of mineral rights that had been left to Lombardi by her mother. Here, Snopes explains the controversy and the basis for rating the claim "True."
Lisa Lombardi: Carlson's Biological Mother
Tucker Carlson's parents were Richard Carlson and Lisa Lombardi. Lombardi, an artist described by contemporaries as a "bohemian," came from several wealthy "pioneer families," including a man, Henry Miller, dubbed the "The Cattle King." At the time of Miller's death in 1916, he owned 3 million acres of rangeland in California, Oregon, Washington, and Nevada.
Her family's ownership of this vast expanse declined over the years, but the family retained much of the land's mineral rights. In some cases, real estate transactions allow a person to sell land but retain rights to any profits generated by mining or drilling on the land. Lombardi inherited a portion of her family's mineral rights, which pay or paid out royalties in 1993, when her mother died.
Carlson's dad and Lombardi divorced in 1976, when Tucker was 6 years old. The elder Carlson was awarded full custody of both of their children, and Carlson had little to no relationship with his mom after the divorce. As reported in a profile of Carlson published by Insider, Lombardi "disappeared from her sons' lives," according to Carlson's childhood friends.
Carlson was later adopted by his father's second wife — Swanson frozen chicken heiress Patricia Swanson.
A Dispute Over Mineral Rights
Lombardi died on Oct. 14, 2011, while abroad in France with her husband. Just shy of a year later, a lawyer for Tucker and brother Buckley Carlson filed a petition in Kern County, California, for a court to rule on the succession of property owned by Lombardi. That court was entitled to rule on such a matter due to Lombardi's ownership of mineral rights in that county.
With the agreement of Lombardi's surviving husband, Michael Vaughan, the court finalized a settlement ruling that Lombardi died "intestate" (without a will), and that property with mineral interests and royalty shares totaling about $129,684 would be distributed evenly between Vaughan and the two Carlson brothers. That ruling went into effect in July 2013.
After finding a hand-written will in 2013 leaving virtually all of her estate to Vaughn, however, Vaughan's family filed a petition in South Carolina, Lombardi's legal residence at the time of her death, to become the legal representative of Lombardi's estate and officially enter the will into probate. This handwritten document contains the instructions that Tucker and Buckley Carlson receive "one dollar each" at issue in viral claims:
The Carlsons at first objected to the admission of this will into the South Carolina probate case, describing it as a potential forgery. In addition to instruction to give $1 to each of her estranged sons, the will also provided that Vaughan get all her property, including the aforementioned mineral rights:
The Carlsons dropped their challenge to the will's admission in South Carolina probate court. Kern County ultimately ruled that the will, while legally valid, could not affect the past distribution of settlement funds due to California probate law.
Copies of this will were included as exhibits in multiple attempts by Vaughn and other Lombardi family members to overrule the Kern County settlement based on several legal theories, including that the above will invalidated the previous settlement, that Lombardi never gained possession of some or all of the mineral rights in question, and that they were never part of her estate.
This latter claim required lawyers for the estate of Lombardi's long-deceased mother to get involved in the dispute. Ultimately, Kern County denied these attempts, finding Vaughn bound by prior admissions in the original case and that the lack of timely admission of the will to the Kern County court was not the fault of the court system.
In other words, the Carlson brothers got more than the $1 Lombardi's August 1995 will stipulated, and this decision has been affirmed several times.
Is the Will Legit?
Just because the will did not affect the Kern County settlement does not mean the document is not valid or not Lombardi's authentic wishes. According to court testimony, Isabell Vaughan, one of Michael's daughters from a prior marriage, "discovered Lisa's handwritten will in Lisa's painting room and office" in the Fall of 2013. As described in an Insider profile:
"Lisa was basically sort of a hippie and a free spirit," said one attorney who represented the Vaughan family and recalled having conversations about the case. "She was very liberal and she did not agree with Tucker's politics. But she stuck the will in the book, everyone forgot about it, and then she passed away."
The Carlsons originally challenged the admission of that will in the South Carolina probate case, arguing that the will "was a forgery" and that Vaughn had already signed documents in Kern County indicating Lombardi left no will. Vaughn's lawyers hired a handwriting expert who concluded it was "highly probable" that the will was authored by Lombardi. The Carlsons voluntarily dropped their objection.
This left the admission of the will in Lombardi's South Carolina probate case without any objections or challenges. Legally speaking, then, that handwritten document is the last will and testament of Lombardi, and it effectively cut her estranged sons out of her inheritance. For that reason, the claim at issue in this story is true.
In practice, however, the Kern County challenges made by Vaughan and their subsequent appeals — some of which were based in part on that will — have all been denied, and the Carlson brothers inherited a third of their estranged mothers mineral interests in spite of it.