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CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8 | cbs8.com

Missing woman’s trust names Keith Harper as beneficiary of the estate

Lydia "Dia" Abrams has been missing 10 months from her ranch near Idyllwild.
Credit: KFMB

SAN DIEGO — A trust agreement signed by Lydia “Dia” Abrams two weeks before she went missing in June 2020 near Idyllwild, leaves her estate to the man who claims to be the missing woman's fiancé.

That man, Keith Harper, filed a petition in Riverside County court March 22, asking a judge to appoint him successor trustee to the Abrams estate, as spelled out in the trust agreement.

Harper’s petition included a copy of the entire trust agreement, which previously had not been made public.

The Dia Kenshalo Abrams Trust originally was signed by Abrams in December 2016; though at the time, her properties east of Idyllwild were not transferred into the trust.

The trust was then restated and amended by Abrams on May 22, 2020 to exclude as beneficiaries her two adult children, Crisara Abrams and Clinton Abrams of La Jolla.  Abrams transferred her Idyllwild-area properties into the amended trust on the same date, property records showed.

The amended trust named Harper as both trustee and beneficiary of the estate, in the event of Abrams’ death or incapacitation. 

The trust agreement does not, however, include language spelling out exactly what should happen if the trustor, Abrams, were to go missing.

Abrams, 65, has not been seen since Saturday, June 6 after she mysteriously went missing from her Bonita Vista Ranch east of Idyllwild in Mountain Center.

Harper, 71, previously told News 8 that he had lunch with Abrams at the ranch in the afternoon of June 6, and last saw her around 2:30 p.m. when he went to do some ranch work.

“I was down on the meadow, which is probably 100 yards down,” Harper said during the August 2020 interview.

When he returned from his work around 7:30 that evening, Harper said Abrams was gone.  She had left her cell phone, purse and Ford truck behind.

Harper’s probate petition asks a judge to “instruct and direct” him on a request to be appointed trustee of the estate in Abrams’ absence.  He is represented by attorney Dennis Healey of Palm Desert, who originally drew up Abrams’ amended trust.

In a separate case filed March 9 by the missing woman's children, the court is being asked to order Harper be removed as trustee of the estate.

In that case, attorneys for Crisara and Clinton Abrams argue, “the Riverside County Sheriff's Department is investigating Mr. Harper as a potential perpetrator of the crime or crimes that led to [Abrams'] disappearance."

“Given Mr. Harper' s potential involvement in [Abrams'] disappearance, his breaches of fiduciary duty, and his criminal history, he is unfit to serve as trustee and there is a significant risk of loss if he is not suspended and removed,” the children’s petition states.

News 8 reached out to Dennis Healey, Harper's attorney, for a response to the allegations that his client is under suspicion in Abrams' disappearance.

"It is my understanding that there are several people that are under suspicion for it, including, I think, her son," said Healey.

The kids’ petition also claimed mortgage payments were in arrears on Abrams’ 117-acre ranch to the tune of $35,000; and mortgage payments were in arrears $42,000 on a home in nearby Garner Valley.

The two properties are titled under Abrams' amended trust, along with the Sky High Ranch in the same area of Mountain Center.

RELATED: Family of Idyllwild missing woman seeks removal of 'fiancé' as trustee

The dueling petitions are set for separate hearings in May in Riverside County Probate Court in Palm Springs before Judge John. G. Evans.

Given that Abrams’ newly-released trust agreement specifically excludes her two children as beneficiaries, it is unclear whether the Abrams family members have legal standing to challenge the terms of their mother’s trust in court, experts told News 8.

Abrams’ children are asking the court to appoint a guardian ad litem to represent Dia Abrams’ interests in the estate, as well as a private professional fiduciary to manage the estate assets.

Abrams' son, Clinton Abrams, sent News 8 the following statement regarding the probate petitions:

"Our first priority is unequivocally locating Dia and ensuring her welfare. By filing the petition in Riverside, we simply seek the appointment of a neutral, professional third party fiduciary who can step in to manage and protect Dia’s trust and her estate for her benefit while she is missing and the investigation into her disappearance proceeds. We pray for our mother Dia’s safe return, and humbly ask others to do the same."

Abrams’ amended trust also names a second alternate trustee and secondary beneficiary in the event of Harper’s death: Diana Fedder.

Fedder is a former neighbor of Abrams, who helped the missing woman manage her estate and list it on Airbnb for short-term rentals.

Fedder, 53, recently sold her house in Garner Valley and moved out of state to take care of her parents, according to her interview last month with News 8.

Healey, Harper's attorney, made the following comments via telephone interview with News 8:

"We have a trust and the trust appointed him [Harper] to take over.  We’re in court to have the trust upheld.  Dia did the trust.  She knew what she was doing.  The document speaks for itself and the document has not been set aside.  So, we think that her wishes should be honored at this point.

I’m trying to represent her [Dia's] interests and carry out what she wants.

I think you need somebody that knows what they’re doing around the ranch.  A private fiduciary is very good for handing a lot of trusts, but I think in handling the functions of a ranch, I think you need somebody that is specialized in that, and I think Keith has been doing that for a number of years.

You need somebody that’s familiar with the ranch and is able to handle the animals and things up there... It’s a handful of work."