Billionaire Conrad Prebys cut his son out of will

Eric Prebys, noted physicist, blames dad's dementia

Conrad Prebys, his son Eric, and the two grandsons. Eric Prebys wrote to his son Jake, explaining the trust.
  • Conrad Prebys, his son Eric, and the two grandsons. Eric Prebys wrote to his son Jake, explaining the trust.

Billionaire real estate tycoon Conrad Prebys, who died last July at 82, gave hundreds of millions of dollars to nonprofit groups, but he cut his only child, son Eric Prebys, out of the will two years before his death.

By a strange twist of fate, a letter that Eric Prebys wrote to one of his sons, along with Conrad Prebys's Gift Trust #13, got online. A source of mine found them. Eric Prebys wrote to his son Jake, explaining the trust, "As you can see, there are specific clauses exempting me from receiving any money," he wrote. I counted six paragraphs specifically exempting Eric, who had expected to inherit $20 million.

Son, grandsons, Conrad. Eric and Conrad maintained a friendship for 35 years.

Son, grandsons, Conrad. Eric and Conrad maintained a friendship for 35 years.

"I didn't find out about this until after the funeral," Eric wrote to his son Jake. "I have absolutely no idea what this is about…I didn't know the extent of his animosity until I received the paperwork a few days ago. The fact that he pretended to be friendly when we spoke or when I went out there, now strikes me as downright ghoulish."

In his younger days, Conrad Prebys ran a pizzeria in South Bend, Indiana.

In his younger days, Conrad Prebys ran a pizzeria in South Bend, Indiana.

Eric wrote bitterly, "if he'd wasted time being a decent husband and father, he never would have become Conrad the Legend…he had no paternal instincts whatsoever." Each of Eric's two sons got $1 million.

In his younger days, Conrad Prebys ran a pizzeria in South Bend, Indiana. But he was "a drunk my mother had divorced," wrote Eric.

Conrad Prebys came to San Diego in 1965 and prospered as a real estate salesman at the time the market was hot. Then he went on to construction and development. He kept a low profile until he got the philanthropy bug late in his career.

Eric was two at the time of the divorce. At age 16, he went looking for his father and found him in San Diego. There had been no communication after the divorce and Conrad's departure from South Bend. Conrad's "severe drinking problem" was in the past, Eric told me in an interview. "He had been sober for some time." Eric and Conrad had a chat for several hours, and maintained a friendship for 35 years, surprisingly interrupted by Conrad's writing him out of the will.

After he learned that he had been dumped out of the will, Eric started doing some homework -- asking various people about his father's later years and health problems. "I no longer have any bitterness toward my father," Eric told me. "When I wrote the letter to Jake I was very emotional." But he learned that his father had dementia with his myeloma in his later years. "He was not in his right mind. He had an illusion about the animosity." I suspected that Eric might have contested the will and received a settlement, but he would not talk about legal matters.

Eric had some observations about his father. Despite his billion dollars of assets, "he was ridiculously frugal, flew on Southwest Airlines when he had hundreds of millions of dollars. He stayed at a Hampton Inn when he came to see me," says Eric. His Point Loma home was quite nice but not a mansion. "He didn't like to spend money, but late in life he discovered philanthropy. He enjoyed adulation." And how. He gave $100 million to the medical research operation that renamed itself Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute. He gave $25 million to the Salk Institute which renamed its auditorium "The Conrad T. Prebys Auditorium." He gave $20 million to the La Jolla Music Society, which is building The Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center. San Diego State University endowed the Conrad Prebys Chair in Bio-Medical Research and boasts of its Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union. And so on.

Eric Prebys has done well, too. He got a PhD in physics at the University of Rochester, was an assistant professor of physics at Princeton, and is now a senior scientist at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia, Illinois. He has given physics papers throughout the world, and I admit I can't understand a word of their titles.

Share / Tools

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • AddThis
  • Email

More from SDReader


AlexClarke; Am I the "poor baby" because I don't understand the titles of Eric Prebys's physics papers? Or is Eric the "poor baby" because his father wrote him out of the will? Explain, please. Best, Don Bauder

You are not the "poor baby" I was referring to but rather Eric.

AlexClarke: There are many good things to say about Eric Prebys. He was two years old when his parents divorced. He never saw his father until he went looking for him at age 16, and found him. They remained friends for more than 30 years -- at least Eric thought they had. The letter he wrote suggests that there was something he said in a conversation that motivated Conrad to cut him out of the will. Eric says he can't remember what he said during the conversation. He didn't know he had been disinherited until after the funeral.

This is a sad situation -- worthy to be printed to draw an accurate picture of Conrad Prebys. Everything written about him by San Diego's mainstream media is maudlin mush. Best, Don Bauder

AlexClarke: Whew! Usually I am the butt of the whip. Best, Don Bauder

Yes the old Conrad was out of his mind and directed by the wrong people. Didn't act out of love for his own family. Easy to persuade the demented to be mean spirited. Don't cut out your own grandkids, they should have been cared for.

shirleyberan: Conrad Prebys did not cut out his grandsons. They each get $1 million. Conrad cut out his son, Eric, who has had no hard feelings following his discovery that Conrad suffered from dementia as he was ding of myeloma. Eric had thought their relations were fine for 35 years, once he discovered him when he (Eric) was 16. For 14 years, though, Conrad Prebys had not communicated with his son after the divorce from his first wife. That first family had lived in South Bend, Indiana, where Conrad had his pizza parlor and had a severe drinking problem.

Conrad had three wives and a life partner, Debbie Turner, at the time of his death. He was divorced from two of his wives and a third died. Debbie Turner declined to be interviewed for this item.

Don, this is a terrible story. Surely there must have been a lawyer or advisor who could have counseled Prebys to act more charitably toward his own son and the father of his grandchildren. It's only money, of course, and the grandkids were recognized with generous bequests, and the son is certainly gainfully employed, but Prebys' decision to deny his son entirely seems cruel and so sad, especially as money surely must have mattered to the old man as he had amassed so much of it.

I'll bet Debbie Turner got way more than a million dollars.

Ponzi: That would probably be a bet that no one would take. Best, Don Bauder

monaghan: Although Conrad Prebys apparently went regularly to see his son and grandsons, the son was written out of the will. The son says he didn't know about it until after the funeral. At least Conrad Prebys gave $1 million each to the two grandsons, Eric's sons. Best, Don Bauder

Considering the size of his wealth, those $1 million bequests were really minimal. A mil doesn't buy all that much these days. In some cities it won't even buy much of a home. The son may be an esteemed physicist, but that doesn't mean he's affluent either.

I'm going to think that Debbie figured large in that decision, maybe because she just didn't like Eric. More for Eric would mean less for other beneficiaries, such as herself. Hmmm.

Visduh: Those $1million bequests are also in a trust. The grandsons don't get the money for awhile. As I understand it, the bulk of his money goes to charity. That is the way Conrad Prebys was. He was extremely generous and is beloved of San Diego nonprofits. Best, Don Bauder

Visduh: Some believe that Debbie figured large in Conrad's decision in his later years to disinherit his son. In our society, that happens all too often. However, I have no proof of that in the case of Debbie. Best, Don Bauder

Don Bauer wrote this slanderous article without verifying any of the false accusations. He could have asked for confirmation from any of the many organizations Conrad supported. He could have asked for confirmation from almost any of San Diego's elected officials. He could have asked for confirmation from any of San Diego's other major philanthropists. He could have tried to verify this story in many ways but he chose not to.

This is an example of todays despicable style of news reporting. Write anything, verify nothing.

Debra Turner: Debbie Turner was Conrad Prebys's "life partner" at his death. I tried to reach her the day before I called Eric Prebys. I called someone who knew her well and knew her phone number and she said she would call and have her call me. Four or five hours later, she wrote me an email, "No go." I interpreted that to mean that Debbie would not talk. But it apparently meant that my friend had decided not to get in the middle of this. So I didn't reach Debbie before I talked to Eric.

I do not think the article slanders Conrad Prebys. Debbie thinks that the fact that he stayed in Hampton Inns was slanderous. I considered it flattering -- a billionaire staying in a motel. Debbie's version of why Eric was written out of the will differs greatly with Eric's. Eric says his father was a "great businessman" and I agree. We all agree that he was a great philanthropist. Best, Don Bauder

Yes, this is news. Debbie Turner should have talked with Don Bauder. I am sure if Debbie Turner is still out there and wants to respond, that Don would listen and write a new column addressing any issues he may have missed.


1) Either had some serious issues with his son

2) OR Conrad has some serious mental issues

3) OR maybe it was hard feelings for the mother of his son

4) OR Debbie Turner may have intervened and had something to do with Conrad having his son written out of his will and giving a pittance of his fortune 1 million each to two grandsons....

I am thinking that it was probably a combination of 1-4.

I personally know of a few similar situations where the husband marries a subsequent younger wife. And the new younger wife or companion becomes a Svengali in the guy's old age and has him change the paperwork (duress) disinheriting and/or short changing family members that either the new companion/wife does not care for or does not get along with. OR the new wife just wants all the money and assets for herself and family.,

In some cases, New Wife/Partner may have forced him to sign changes etc... He may have lacked the "legal capacity" to make the changes because of his declining mental state etc.....Talk to a lawyer or expert about that..

Would be very interested in hearing Debbie Turner's side of this particular story. It is not too late to make things right.

Many, even famous celebrity offspring, have had to sue many years later to force more reasonable settlements.

Julian Lennon had to sue his father John Lennon's estate since he was not mentioned/cut out of his father John's estate of over a billion dollars.... Very similar situation. Father John had ignored his son Julian for 10-15 years.

Julian and his mother had struggled and lived very modestly while his father jet setted around the world.

John reconciled with his Son Julian a few years before his death. They were on very good terms before he died. Wife #2 Yoko did not want Julian to get any of his father's estate, money, artwork, music, properties etc... Julian had to sue. Yoko and the Estate dragged it out for years and finally settled with the son who looks and sounds like a John Lennon clone. It was probably not even close to half the estate or a third of the estate that he should have received, but he got something like 50-60M. Life can be unfair to some...

Conrad's son and grandsons should have sued. They would have either won at Trial or forced a much higher settlement than a measly few million on an estate worth in the high hundreds of millions..

SportsFan0000: As I have said earlier, I attempted to get to Debbie Turner before I interviewed Eric. But the person who knew her phone number, and said she would call her and ask her to call me, later emailed me and said "No go." I interpreted this to mean Debbie wouldn't talk. Now I am being told that my source had decided not to call Debbie on the topic. I thought I knew her well enough that she would have honestly said, "I have decided not to get involved in this," rather than "No go." Had I known she simply didn't want to get involved, I would have gone to others to get Debbie's number.

Below, Debbie Turner blasts me, which is her right. I have talked with her twice, and she apparently doesn't want to say more to me. Obviously, I disagree with her, but she has a right to state her opinion. Best, Don Bauder

SportsFan000: Eric refuses to talk about it, but I suspect he did get a modest settlement, which Debbie objects to. Both refuse to discuss it. Best, Don Bauder

Don, Perhaps they signed a "gag order" that they wouldn't talk about it or the "deal was off". That, unfortunately, happens a lot... Cases where the pubilc's need to know would be better served by full disclosure such as corporate ripoffs, pump and dump stock schemes, child abuse, violence against others etc... Otherwise, it just allows the problem(s) to continue and the predators to line up the next victims(suckers)..

SportsFan0000: I don't think there was a gag order because Eric spoke to me initially several times (he has not returned calls recently) and Debbie called me twice to criticize me strongly. Best, Don Bauder

SportsFan0000: While he was alive, he never gave any indication it was 1, and it was absolutely not 3. After I made contact with my father again at 16, he and my mother remained close for the rest of their lives (sadly, I lost her just a few months before him). Among other things, he used to send her absurdly large floral arrangements every Christmas and birthday. There are lots of pictures of all of us together at my second wedding in 2013.

Dixie Hall: I disagree with you. Conrad Prebys had a well-deserved reputation as an excellent businessman and philanthropist. San Diego media write him up as an angel. But, like all of us, he had warts that should be exposed. The Reader is the one medium in San Diego that gives balanced reports of such people. Best, Don Bauder

Don, Her comment is like so many I've seen in smaller papers. The medium will print a story about some unfortunate event, such as an unexpected and tragic death, and then a reader sends in a comment to the effect that the story was improper and should be pulled. In some cases, I think that some folks just don't grasp what a "news"paper is all about. It prints, and should print, stories of events in its coverage area. Sometimes it has to tell a painful story in the process, but that doesn't mean it is doing anything wrong. News is like that; some like it and some don't.

Visduh: Precisely. I get that all the time. Mainstream media in San Diego will not print negative material on someone or something considered a god -- socialite, star athlete, large company (particularly one that advertises). If you want the truth on such matters, read the Reader. Best, Don Bauder

Joseph Monroe: I agree with you. The fact that a billionaire socialite/philanthropist cut his only child, his son, completely out of his will, and gave his two grandsons only $1 million each (in trust, so these sums can't be touched for a time) should be exposed. The fact that he and his first of three wives parted while the son was two years old, and the son had to go searching for his father at age 16 because the senior Prebys, a chronic alcohol abuser in his early days, had deserted his only son, fills out the picture of the man. Mainstream media have only written fluff stories about Conrad Prebys.

Prebys was a superb businessman and a very generous philanthropist. But in the end, he failed in his family obligations. Best, Don Bauder

You can pick your friends but not your relatives.

AlexClarke: All too many people pick AT both their friends and relatives. Best, Don Bauder

Aside from news/not news arguments, various armchair legal opinions and mental heath assessments made here, Don Bauder understands the heart of this sad story: rich and famous locals ARE treated with kid gloves by mainstream media in San Diego and deceased whitewashed philanthropist Conrad Prebys "in the end...failed in his family obligations."

monaghan: As I say in my comment below, I believe my father did what he did because his mind was failing him, and I do not hold it against him, nor do not want to see his (well deserved) reputation tarnished because of it.

Debbie paints a very different picture of him, and I'll leave it to you to decide how you think that picture reflects on the two of them.

monaghan: So true. Read the letter that Eric wrote to one of his sons. It tells a lot about Conrad Prebys. Since he wrote the letter, Eric has said that he now forgives his father because he believes he was suffering from dementia as he was dying of cancer. I suspect (but Eric has not confirmed) that Eric contested the will in some way and got some kind of a settlement. Debbie Turner, who lived with Conrad following his three marriages, strongly denies that Conrad Prebys suffered from dementia until his final dying days, during which he could not recognize his son Eric.

Debbie says Eric was written out of the will because of something said in a conversation. In the letter to his son, Eric mentions the conversation and says he cannot remember what he said. Best, Don Bauder

It was not my choice for this article to get published, and I promised myself I would not weigh in on it. It's my sincerest wish to put this whole unpleasant matter solidly in the rear view mirror; nevertheless, I loved and respected my father and do not want to see his legacy tarnished, so I feel I need to say a few things...

In the 37 years from the time I went looking for my father until the time he died, we never had a significant argument, confrontation, or disagreement. We had a loving relationship and a deep respect for each other. He never gave any indication that that relationship had changed in any way, right up until the time he died - when I was blindsided by incidents at the hospital, the funeral, with the Board, and finally with the trust documents. There's one mistake in Don's article. I did not "expect" $20M, because we never discussed the details of the trust. It wasn't the fact I was written out; it's the cruelty with which it was done, on top of all the other things that had happened.

This was never about the money; this was about the realization that my father was harboring a deep animosity toward me during the last year and a half of that 37 year relationship, going to great lengths to hide that animosity, and fantasizing all the while about how much it would hurt me when I learned about it after his death. Imagine no money was involved. Imagine if someone you believed was a close friend or relative died and then had a letter excoriating you read at the funeral. How would that make you feel?

The alleged reasons for our falling out have changed significantly with the telling, so I can't really address them, but I ask you, what could possibly explain something like this, particularly given his own missteps in the past?

If he really did this in his right mind, then he was at heart a petty and vindictive coward, and no number of things named after him can change that. That's what I believed when I wrote that letter to my son; however, I simply couldn't reconcile that with the Conrad Prebys I knew, so I started doing some homework and talking to people. I'm now sincerely convinced that his mental deterioration started much sooner than I thought and that that was the cause of this bizarre behavior. Indeed, because these actions were so unlike him, it’s really the only evidence I need that his mind had deteriorated. After all, if a man shows up to work with no pants on, no one says “except for that, he was acting pretty normal”.

I will end by stressing this: in all the time I knew my father - which was a lot longer than Ms. Turner knew him - I never once heard him say a cruel or vindictive word toward anyone. He was the same person in private as he was in public: genuinely humble, genuinely kind, and genuinely forgiving. That was my father. That’s the man I will remember, and in spite of any ugliness others might bring up in the future, that’s the man San Diego should remember.

The final description here of your father exactly matches every anecdote I ever heard about him: I am sure this is how Conrad Prebys will be remembered. Dementia can utterly change its victims and cause deep distress and sorrow among loved ones. It seems you have "found" your father once again. I am so glad for you and your children and for a reassuring conclusion to this harrowing story.

monaghan: We don't have a happy ending yet because more shoes will be falling. Debbie Turner's latest suit guarantees that more shoes will fall. She should pray that the shoes don't fall on her. Best, Don Bauder

Eric Prebys: That is an eloquent statement, and I can't improve on it. Best, Don Bauder

Too bad for the kid Eric but his elderly father no doubt was not executing with the same brain that earned those millions when he changed the will. As a retired PI I can tell you this is not that uncommon in the world of death in families with money, especially when there is a new and younger wife in the equation. That is not meant to disparage any second wives. It is just reality when an older man marries a younger woman and there are children with the first wife. In fact it is unusual for everything to be hunky dorry when the old man dies. The changing of the will to the detriment of the children born to the first wife is pretty routine. Not sure why but that has been my experience. I guess there is a lot of pressure to treat the second wife like the first and the "new" children need to be included, you cannot expect mom number 2 to ignore her children from a previous marriage nor the new ones with the old guy. Things get divided more so the first kids invariably end up losing something to the new kids. Seems kind of normal all things considered. Hard to not hurt someone's feelings in that scenario. Hope Eric got his due and prospers along with the rest of the survivors.

shamus: You are correct. There are very often severe disagreements arising from the second marriage when there are children from the first marriage. Those disagreements keep a lot of lawyers rich. Incidentally, such situations don't always arise when there is a second wife. They arise when there is a second husband, too. Best, Don Bauder

Debra Kuzma: You are absolutely right. There are plenty of men -- rather like gigolos -- who specialize in marrying a female, often elderly, and walking off with a bundle of money. Some of these men get caught and wind up in prison. Best, Don Bauder

Some of the best deaths to celebrate are those where no money/assets/objects are left for anyone. I've seen too many fights over those items once a loved one dies. Money can separate family like nothing else (or for the love of money).

Darren: It is said that love of money is the root of all evil. I wouldn't say ALL evil, but it is certainly behind a lot of evil. Best, Don Bauder

Log in to comment

Skip Ad

Let’s Be Friends

Subscribe for local event alerts, concerts tickets, promotions and more from the San Diego Reader