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Pepsi Heirs Sue in New York for Family Documents


Coca-Cola ads often refer to the cola's secret formula, but competitor Pepsi's taste secrets may soon come to light. The heirs of the man credited with creating the familiar Pepsi taste have filed suit in New York for the right to release historic documents currently in the family's possession. The case illustrates the powers of heirs to protect an estate and its assets.

Disappointed heirs often speak during the estate administration and probate process. Disinheritance for the wrong reasons, mistakes distributing property or ambiguous wills can all be problems. But for the descendants of the Pepsi formulator, the problem emerged many decades later.

In the suit, his children claim Pepsi is interfering with their ability to market documents about their father's life story, including one document with details about the soda's formula. In some sense, the family could lose part of their inheritance because the company told them any disclosure of the documents would constitute a trade secret violation.

Like Coca-Cola, Pepsi keeps a copy of the formula in a bank vault. Around the time of reformulating the Pepsi taste in 1941, the man kept a copy of the recipe among his personal belongings.

It appears that the company was surprised to learn of the copy's existence. The heirs found the documents in boxes in 2008 though the man died in 1985. They contacted a Pepsi historian, and only after a representative visited their home did the company demand the return of the documents.

That the family is fighting to protect their father's assets so many years after his death illustrates just one of many legal issues that can occur during estate administration. The suit says the heirs want the right to share the man's story with the world and are seeking a court declaration that revealing the documents would not violate trade secrets.

Source: The Wall Street Journal, "Pepsi's Recipe Heads to Court," Mike Esterl, May 8, 2012