My estate is worth millions of dollars. How do I stop my daughters’ husbands from getting their hands on it?

My wife and I live in California, as do three of our four grown daughters. We are revisiting our family trust for the first time in many years, as we’re getting older and have gradually built an estate worth a couple of million dollars. We want to make sure that, in case our daughters get divorced, our hard-earned savings go to them and not their ex-husbands. 

We consulted with two estate attorneys and got different answers. The first said there’s nothing we can do to legally enforce that the inheritance stays separate; the most we could do is put in some wording along the lines of “It is our wish that the money stays separate.” The second attorney said that we can make our children sign a prenup as a condition of their inheritance. 

Furthermore, we have one daughter who has already been married for five years and has three children; another daughter who just got engaged; and two other children, who are single. Our married daughter does not have a prenuptial agreement. How do we protect our gift to her? A retroactive prenup? How should we proceed?

Father of Four Girls

Related: They’re threatening to go to a lawyer’: My in-laws gave us $300,000 and are on the deed to our home. Now they insist we give our niece $125,000.

“Don’t allow this money to become a cudgel with which to control your daughters’ lives.”

MarketWatch illustration

Dear Father,

Money should bring freedom and opportunity, not control and coercion. 

Your intentions tread a fine line between expectations and legality. There is only so much you can do to prevent your daughters from sharing their inheritance with their spouses, assuming they all marry and some of those marriages end in divorce. It is a credit to you that you have amassed a couple of million dollars, but don’t allow this money to become a cudgel with which to pull the purse strings in your daughters’ lives. 

One solution to your problem: You could set up a bloodline trust, a revocable trust that sets out how you should leave your assets to your direct beneficiaries — in this case, your daughters — and which becomes irrevocable upon your death. It can only be used for your daughters and their children, and because it becomes irrevocable upon your death, it cannot be accessed by creditors, should you have any. There are downsides. For example, such a trust could, unless otherwise specified, exclude stepchildren and adopted children.

First, the good news: Inheritance in California is considered separate property. Whether you leave your children real estate or brokerage or savings accounts, that money will remain nonmarital property unless your daughters use it to upgrade their family home or in some other way commingle those assets with their community property. So that pre-empts the need for your married daughter to ask her spouse to sign a postnuptial agreement.

On that subject, however, it’s not wise to use this inheritance to tell your daughters what they should do within their marriages. There should be a clear boundary between your relationship with your adult children and their relationships with their respective partners and spouses. It’s not a good idea to interfere in the latter. Doing so may cause discord in their relationships and also cause unnecessary hurt and tension in your own relationships with your daughters.

“California is one of a few states that strictly adheres to community-property laws, which declare that assets acquired during a marriage [are] community, also known as marital, property,” according to Myers Family Law in Roseville, Calif. “However, even California draws a line when it comes to personal inheritances, including inheritances that were received while married. Inheritances are treated as separate property, belonging to the individual who received the inheritance.”

Legal gymnastics

Requesting in your last will and testament that your daughters receive their share of your estate on the condition that they don’t share any of it with their husbands presents a lot of impractical and legal gymnastics. What they do with their inheritance is their business, unless you put those assets in a trust with strict instructions on how those assets should be used — for your grandchildren’s education, for example — or use the trust to provide an annual income.

There are so many variables beyond your control. What if you die before your wife, and she has different ideas about how your joint estate should be settled? What if your daughter’s husband is asked to sign a prenup, and replies, “No way — who does your father think he is?” The best course of action is to make your daughters aware of how to manage separate assets that are inherited, and how they could be accidentally commingled.

Think about the quality time you have left with your family. You don’t want Thanksgiving dinners to turn into a battle royale or, worse, a situation where your daughters and their partners gradually pull away and reevaluate their relationships with you. You have worked hard for your money, and you are attempting to protect your family fortune. But there are times in life when you can do too much, and hold your family too tight, even if that is not your intention. 

Ask yourself some soul-searching questions before you proceed. Do you really want to force your children to sign a prenup in order to receive their inheritance? Prenups can be challenged and changed at a later date. What is more important: the couple of million dollars you will leave behind, or the relationships you have with your daughters while you are still here? Don’t put a price on your daughters’ love for you — or on their love for their spouses.

Sorry for being preachy, but even Shakespeare wrote a play about estate planning. It was called “King Lear.”

The Moneyist regrets he cannot reply to questions individually.

Previous columns by Quentin Fottrell:

‘I grew up pretty poor’: I got an annual bonus. After I pay off my credit cards, I’ll have $10,000. What should I do with it?

‘I received an insurance-claim check for $22,000’: Why on earth does it take five days for my check to clear?

‘I want to protect my family’: My wealthy father, 49, is marrying his third wife. How do I broach the subject of my inheritance?

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Why Cornel West Is Broke

Newly uncovered divorce filings reveal allegations of a “secret life” and help explain why the presidential candidate, who has earned millions of dollars over the years, has hardly anything left.

By Jemima Denham, Contributor, and Zach Everson, Forbes Staff

Cornel West has been a fixture of American society for more than three decades, publishing books, teaching at Ivy League institutions, commenting on cable news, collaborating on music with Prince—even popping up in sequels to the Matrix. Ubiquity provided liquidity, with West earning an estimated $15 million or so over the last 30 years. But oddly, as he mounts an independent run for president, his net worth resembles that of a first-year adjunct professor. “I live paycheck to paycheck,” says West.

A review of federal filings and property records confirms that West’s net worth is near zero. Other outlets have previously reported on his troubles paying taxes over the years. But no one so far has explained how someone so successful became so broke. With West in position to affect who becomes America’s next president, Forbes set out to answer that question, digging into heaps of legal and tax documents filed in various jurisdictions over six decades. Turns out much of the damage was self-inflicted.

West burst onto the national scene in the 1990s with Race Matters, a compilation of essays that sold more than 500,000 copies. He traveled the country to deliver speeches, hauling in more than $500,000 a year. Much of the money flowed to him with no taxes deducted. West blew it—on many things, especially women—leaving little left for Uncle Sam by the time tax season arrived. The liens piled up: $144,000 in 1998, $105,000 in 2000, $205,000 in 2001 and so on. “Almost like a reptile biting its tail,” he says now.

West lived in a Four Seasons condo in Boston, which he later admitted he could not afford, and rode around in a Mercedes or Cadillac. One of his four ex-wives accused West of maintaining a covert apartment in Boston for $5,000 a month to use as a love den. She also alleged that, despite not having any health conditions, he later took a medical leave from his job at Harvard to live a “secret life” with another woman in New Mexico.

In court documents filed in 2002 and 2003, West did not deny burning money on affairs, at least one of which produced a child. (He acknowledged he had an 18-month-old daughter at the time.) And in his 2009 memoir, Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud, West confirms some of the less-salacious details. But when asked in November to respond to claims he’d “hid or wasted” close to a million dollars, at least some of which went to support extramarital affairs, West offered via email that “The allegations were too ridiculous to attend to–then and now, my brother!” He did not respond to a follow-up inquiry that detailed his ex-wife’s specific allegations.

In 2002, he blamed his financial troubles on other factors, such as his soon-to-be ex-wife’s propensity to spend money on Chanel clothing, upscale dining and antique furniture. More recently, after news about his tax liens surfaced, West elaborated on the genesis of his debt problems, suggesting the student loans he incurred as an undergraduate put him in a “black hole” that he could never escape.

That’s nonsense. After three decades in the public eye, West has earned more than enough money to pay back his student loans. Without enormous earnings, West would not owe the federal government so much in unpaid taxes (he still has about $483,000 in outstanding tax liens today). The real explanation for West’s financial problems: recklessness. Despite his professorial appearance—West is famous for his toothy smile and W. E. B. Du Bois-inspired, three-piece suits—he has spent and lived wildly, impregnating and abandoning multiple women, leaving him with significant divorce and child-support payments, some of which he failed to pay. If government leadership is largely about managing money and maintaining relationships, it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the field who is less prepared for the job than Cornel West.

West was born in Tulsa and raised in Sacramento, by parents who had middle-class jobs, his mom as an elementary school teacher and his dad as a civilian Air Force contractor. At 17, West got a partial scholarship to Harvard. To cover the rest of his tuition, he got assistance from his parents, worked by cleaning toilets and delivering mail and took out loans, he wrote in his memoir. Wary of accumulating more debt, he raced through Harvard in three years. Then in 1973 at age 20, he headed down the East Coast to Princeton, on a full scholarship, to work on his doctorate in philosophy.

At first, everything seemed to be going smoothly. In 1977, when he was just 23, West got married for the first time, became a father and started teaching at New York City’s Union Theological Seminary, an affiliate of Columbia University. Then life took a turn. In 1979, West published one of his first works, an essay on embedding Marxist ideology into Black theology, and filed for divorce from his wife in Reno, Nevada, writing years later in his memoir that she needed more stability than his “intellectual wanderings” could offer. The divorce decree stipulated that West had to pay child support of $320 a month and 15% of his income in excess of $15,000 until his son became an adult. West’s share of the settlement: A stereo, albums and a couple of studio chairs. “In my head, I kept hearing Johnnie Taylor singin’ ‘bout ‘It’d be cheaper to keep her,” West wrote in his memoir. He claimed that the settlement and his poor financial-planning abilities left him sleeping in Central Park for a couple of nights.

He was in love again soon, marrying for a second time in 1981. Five years into that union, he met the woman who would become his third wife in New Haven, Connecticut when she served him a hamburger as he read Hegel in the restaurant of a Holiday Inn. According to his memoir, West proposed to the 27-year-old Elleni Gebre Amlak on their first date: “Elleni, marry me and become the First Lady of Black America.” That line didn’t work, at first. By the time they actually did wed five years later, in 1991, Elleni had changed jobs and was working for the state of Maryland as a counselor for autistic adults. West convinced her to quit her job and delay plans to attend graduate school so that she could travel with him, she later claimed.

What’s Left For West

The famed professor has generated significant earnings over the years. But lavish spending has wiped almost all of it away, leaving Cornel West with only two assets: a retirement account with about $280,000 in it and a partial share of a Princeton home. Combined, they appear to be worth little more than the debts he owes.

Soon he had many places to be. Los Angeles police officers beat Rodney King in the streets in 1991, sparking riots and a national conversation about race. The year after the riots, West released his most-celebrated book, Race Matters, cementing his reputation as a preeminent Black intellectual. Over the ensuing years, West bounced between elite universities—going from Princeton to Harvard to Princeton to Union Theological Seminary—while delivering talks nationwide.

The speeches were lucrative. West’s annual salary at Harvard was around $220,000, but he was able to at least double that amount on the lecture circuit. Over an 18-day stretch in January 1998, for example, West delivered 11 paid speeches, traveling between Alabama, Colorado, Michigan, Illinois, Virginia, Louisiana, North Carolina and Oregon, making between $8,000 and $12,000 at each stop. West described such barnstorming humbly, calling himself a “bluesman singing for his supper.”

But it also led to trouble. In 1998, while on a speaking trip to Ohio, West met a student who was a married mother of two. According to court records, he convinced her to leave her husband and move to Boston, where West was working at Harvard. He put her up in an apartment, separate from the Four Seasons condo he owned with his wife, Elleni. A star on the road, West became a deadbeat at home. The City of Boston filed a property tax lien against West’s Four Seasons condo for not paying taxes in 1998. As an independent businessman who delivered lucrative speeches, West was responsible for setting aside enough money to pay his tax bills each year. He did not. The IRS said he failed to pay $144,000 of taxes that year.

Things soon spiraled out of control. In 1999, West separated from Elleni and rented an apartment for $5,000 a month from another professor at Harvard. He eventually reconciled with his spouse and moved back into his condo at the Four Seasons—but secretly maintained the apartment for future affairs, his wife alleged.

He struck up another romance with a woman he met in Harvard’s Cambridge neighborhood in 1999, then provided financial support to her and took her to Turkey on a two-week vacation, according to papers his wife later filed in court. Before long, his mistress was pregnant with West’s second child. He took a medical leave from Harvard to move to Santa Fe, New Mexico. West phoned his wife regularly to give her the impression he was cleaning up his life while secretly living with his mistress and new child, Elleni later alleged in court filings. She declined to speak with Forbes for this article. In his memoir, West acknowledged having a “love relationship” with a Harvard Nieman Fellow he met in 1999 that led to the birth of a child.

As these shenanigans were going on, West’s reputation continued to grow. In 1999, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, an honorary society John Adams and John Hancock cofounded in 1780. His bio on its website exalts his passion for “telling the truth and bearing witness to love and justice.” And, in 2000, West co-authored a book on Black people’s significance in shaping America with esteemed scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr.

West continued to rake in money on the lecture circuit, too. In 1999 and 2000, West earned more than $550,000 from speeches, according to records from his agent. Elleni estimated his gross income at about $1 million over those two years, a figure that he largely confirmed.

All the money still wasn’t enough to quell his debt problems. By 2002, West owed $817,000 on two mortgages on the Four Seasons condo, $271,000 in delinquent taxes to the IRS, another $38,000 to the Massachusetts Department of Revenue and $26,000 to the City of Boston, according to paperwork he filed in court. West also had taken an advance of $160,000 on his speaking gigs from his agent in 2000. Credit card debts, condo fees, personal loans, student debt and loans from both Harvard and Princeton added up to another $652,000. Things got so bad that when his wife returned from an extended visit to Ethiopia to visit family, she said she found he had failed to pay their bills, causing her phone and cable to get disconnected, her car insurance to be canceled and much of her debt to be sent to collection.

Child support for his two kids also was eating into some of West’s income. In a 2002 affidavit, West acknowledged paying for college tuition, an apartment rental, a car and attorneys fees for his adult son from his first marriage. A court order also required West to pay $750 a week to support the 18-month-old daughter he fathered out of wedlock.

After sticking with him through years of infidelity, Elleni finally filed for divorce in 2001. Two years later, everything was final, with West required to pay his ex-wife $150,000, transfer $275,000 of retirement money to her and provide alimony of $12,500 a month for 12 years.

“The mental strain broke down our bond, and the result, in spite of deep love, was a divorce that left me with a busted bank account,” West wrote in his memoir. He went on, “When it comes to money, by now you know that this particular bluesman has always been funny.”

After his third divorce, the funny business continued. In 2003, around the time that West appeared in the Matrix movies, a woman who had earlier filed a complaint to establish paternity against West took him to court for $49,500 in unpaid child support. (The debt, which was first reported by the Daily Beast, still appears open in court documents, although West recently told New York Magazine that he’d settled the matter privately decades ago.)

Elleni also came back seeking unpaid sums. In 2004, the year West published the bestseller Democracy Matters, she filed a complaint in Massachusetts, alleging he had failed to pay her $50,000 that she was due from their divorce settlement. In 2011, she took him to court again, this time claiming he owed her $486,000 and had failed to pay for her health insurance. He quickly agreed to sign over all of a $13,000 book advance he was expecting (apparently for The Rich And The Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto) to her with another $22,000 to follow over the next month. He ended up agreeing to transfer $575,000 to Elleni within 60 days and another $165,000 over 35 months.

West kept accruing tax debts too, with the IRS filing liens totaling $298,000 for 2003, 2004 and 2005. Even when he managed to make some progress, paying off at least $508,000 between 2007 and 2012, more kept accumulating. Records from New Jersey from around that period show him racking up $85,800 of additional tax debt to the state. He added another $466,000 of IRS liens from 2013 through 2017.

West, now on his fifth wife, says he’s earning about $115,000 a year today at Union Theological Seminary, which also provides him with free housing. Delivering speeches and teaching on Masterclass helped boost his income to about $500,000 in 2022, he thinks. Still, he says paying off old debt eats up most of his income: “Things are always so tight for me.”

His latest act of financial recklessness: Running for president. West is on sabbatical from Union Theological Seminary now, which allows him to continue collecting a paycheck. But the sabbatical will end next year, likely before his campaign does, so West expects to have to transition to an unpaid leave of absence. Maybe a presidential run will help him sell more books, but West seems skeptical: “It’s not as if reading is an integral habit of our precious fellow citizens these days,” he says.

His campaign has been sloppy too. The Federal Election Commission kicked back his initial registration as a candidate because he neglected to sign it. West’s financial disclosure, a standard form that all presidential candidates are required to submit, was remarkably barren, with no mention of his tax debts and no details about who has been paying him to give speeches. It’s hard to imagine federal ethics officials certifying the document without significant edits (which might explain why, almost four months after he first filed the document, the government still hasn’t released a certified version).

All told, West’s current net worth appears to be close to zero. He has about $225,000 of equity in his home in Princeton, New Jersey, which he co-owns with the university. And his retirement savings fund is worth $280,000. That equity outweighs his $465,000 in outstanding tax liens, but only by $40,000, leaving West little breathing room if other debts pop up.

He certainly doesn’t have the financial wherewithal to invest much into his campaign, unlike former billionaire Ross Perot, who mounted an independent bid for the White House in 1992. West’s campaign raised just $250,000 in the third quarter, compared with the $25 million Joe Biden and Donald Trump each pulled in. At this point, though, West doesn’t seem too stressed about his finances. “It’s just—it’s me and Jesus,” he said recently, laughing, “and my momma’s prayers. But it has been like that for decades.”


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In High Stakes Divorce Battle, Estranged Wife Of Indian Software Tycoon Claims He Transferred Ownership Without Telling Her

The soon-to-be ex-wife of Zoho cofounder and CEO Sridhar Vembu alleges he abandoned her and their special needs son and is keeping them from receiving their fair share.

After nearly a quarter of a century living in the San Francisco Bay area and running business software provider Zoho from there, Indian-born Sridhar Vembu decided to go home. The CEO and cofounder of Zoho, which Forbes values at nearly $5 billion, left California and settled into Mathalamparai village in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. “I want my employees to live in these villages because it brings a lot of cross-fertilisation of ideas,” Vembu told Forbes India in June 2020. “I decided that if I’m going to start these rural initiatives, I’m going to need to set myself up in the village, too.”

His move and his dedication to providing rural employment has won him accolades. He appeared on the cover of Forbes India (a Forbes licensee) with a story of “his vision from the village” and has been favorably featured in numerous press articles. He was conferred the Padma Shri, one of India’s highest civilian awards, in 2021 and has been praised by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

His wife of three decades, Pramila Srinivasan, has a different take. Vembu left for India in early 2020 and never returned. According to a source close to Srinivasan, he contacted her via WhatsApp in November 2020 to say he wanted a divorce and filed papers in August 2021. In the divorce case in California, where they resided together for years, she claims Vembu deliberately got rid of a big chunk of his Zoho stake in a complex transaction that moved Zoho’s intellectual property to India and eventually placed the majority of the shares with his sister and her husband, without ever telling her.

“My husband of 29 years not only abandoned me and his son with special needs in 2020,” Srinivasan states in a January court filing, “he decided to make fictitious transfers or ‘sales’ of our most valuable community asset to his family members without their paying any cash or other consideration, and without ever telling me or asking my permission.”

Srinivasan declined to speak to Forbes. But John Farley, her attorney and partner at Rottenstreich Lieberman Farley LLP in New York City, commented that “the community property law in California does not allow a spouse during marriage to secretly dispose of assets without obtaining the other spouse’s consent. After all ‘community’ property in effect means jointly owned—a duty to be transparent with your spouse and not to engage in secret transactions to try to evade the 50-50 legal requirement.”

Vembu disputes the allegations. “I never transferred any shares to anyone and my (and therefore Pramila’s) financial interest in these entities never went down, so the question does not arise of me hiding anything,” Vembu said in an email to Forbes. “I moved to India to devote myself to my dream of rural development and revival, powered by technology,” Vembu added later. I tried to get (Pramila) to come to India with Siddhu [our son] but she refused and the pandemic laid waste to any hope of reconciling. I have never left her or Siddhu to any financial hardship.” He does not address the allegation that he didn’t discuss the sale of Zoho’s intellectual property with his wife.

Divorces among wealthy couples can be nasty affairs, with the most extreme involving everything from forged artwork and smelly fish left in an ex-spouse’s air conditioning vents to fights over hidden assets. An ex-wife of a Russian oligarch accused her husband of transferring a Palm Beach mansion and two Greek islands to overseas trusts to put them out of her reach. The ex-husband of candy heiress Jacqueline Mars alleged that he had no idea his former wife was a billionaire when he signed an ironclad $30 million prenup.

What makes this story so unusual is how and why Zoho’s cofounders and biggest shareholders agreed to a series of transactions that not only valued the company and its intellectual property at what now seems like a low figure, but also ultimately resulted in them having much smaller stakes in the company.

While Vembu has been running Zoho for nearly a quarter century, his sister Radha and brother Sekar own the bulk of the company, according to Indian filings. A product manager at Zoho, Radha has a 47.8% stake in the company that’s currently worth an estimated $2.2 billion. Sekar, founder of Vembu Technologies in Chennai, owns 35.2% worth $1.6 billion. Vembu owns 5%, worth $225 million. The family, now worth at least $4 billion, was ranked No. 48 on Forbes’ 2022 list of India’s 100 Richest under Sridhar’s name due to his prominence as founder and CEO.

In a court filing, Vembu says “Media reports about my net worth are highly exaggerated because they are based on assumptions and suppositions, not facts. To get facts, private financial information about ZCPL [Zoho India] would have to be disclosed to the media—and ZCPL, as a private company, does not do that.” However, the company does have to disclose its financials and shareholdings to the Indian Ministry of Corporate Affairs, which puts the information in a searchable database and is the basis of Forbes’ valuation of the family’s fortune.

Forbes was unable to reach either Radha or Sekar. Vembu’s lawyers declined to comment. According to a June 2022 deposition of Ram Srinivasan, the siblings’ paternal uncle (no relation to Pramila Srinivasan), Radha holds the shares for Vembu. “ ‘She replied that I just got sucked into it..It is Sridhar’s money,” Ram Srinivasan said, claiming that Radha told him that “Sridhar asked me to hold it.” When asked why Vembu might have asked her to hold the shares, rather than his brothers, the uncle speculated that it might have something to do with the fact that the brothers were often fighting. And, he added, “In my opinion, after his divorce is all done, the whole money will go to [Sridhar] one way or another.”

One thing is for certain: Vembu has gladly portrayed himself to be a bootstrapped entrepreneur behind one of India’s most successful software companies who nevertheless has no interest in being rich. “I am a capitalist and I don’t care about net worth,” he told Forbes India in 2020.

A graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology Madras, Vembu first arrived in the U.S. in 1989 to get a PhD in electrical engineering from Princeton. He married Srinivasan (whom he met while he was at graduate school) in 1993 and joined Qualcomm the following year. He worked at Qualcomm for two years on wireless communication technology, according to a 2007 interview. Soon he moved to the San Francisco Bay area and began running AdventNet, the predecessor to Zoho, though its origin story, like many details in this divorce case, is up for debate. Zoho declined to comment but the company’s own website says it was started in a small apartment in the suburbs of Chennai. A timeline on the same site says it began as AdventNet in New Jersey. In a 2017 Forbes Asia article, Vembu is said to have teamed up with Tony Thomas, an AT&T Bell Labs engineer, to start AdventNet along with Vembu’s brothers Kumar and Sekar and two other friends. In Vembu’s declaration, he says he didn’t found the initial company, called Advent Network Management, but simply introduced Thomas to his brother Kumar, who had his own company in India, and the two began working together. Vembu later worked with Thomas. Then, in 1998, Thomas restructured the company into AdventNet, giving himself a 45% stake and Vembu a 22% stake. (This is a different tale than the one he shared with Forbes Asia and Forbes India; both publications describe him as the founder or cofounder of AdventNet and Zoho.)

Meanwhile Srinivasan, who got a PhD in electrical and computer engineering from Purdue University in 1997, says she worked to support the couple during these early years. Since 2010 she has run a company called MedicalMine that provides electronic health records. She also takes care of their 23-year-old son, who has autism and special needs, and started a nonprofit, The Brain Foundation, in 2019 to support research and treatment for people with autism.

Regardless of the backstory, AdventNet took off. Revenue hit $10 million by 2000, according to an interview Vembu gave. That same year he turned down a venture capitalist whose investment would have valued the company at $200 million, according to a 2012 Bloomberg article. Behind the scenes – and nowhere to be found on its website or the many news articles that feature Vembu – there were changes afoot.

According to Vembu’s legal declaration, he and Thomas no longer saw eye to eye. So at a January 2010 board meeting, they agreed to sell the company, renamed Zoho the previous year. In his deposition, Thomas did not mention any disagreement. Instead he said that the case was made to him by multiple people including Vembu that it made sense to hold the IP in India where the product was being developed. “Sridhar and I would talk all the time…the sentiment was definitely very clear. He felt it, and by the end of it, I felt equally strongly that it made sense, and the ownership should be shifted.” In December, a new company, Zoho Corporation Private Limited, was set up in India by Vembu and his brother-in-law Rajendran Dandapani, according to a memorandum of association, showing them owning 43% and 57%, respectively. Vembu’s lawyers say he only ever owned 5% of the India-based company.

By the end of 2011, more shares were issued and a new shareholding structure was set forth: according to a cap table filed by Srinivasan’s lawyers, Vembu’s sister Radha got a 49% stake, her husband Dandapani received 34%, Thomas held 8% and Vembu 5%, with three others owning the remaining 4%. Thomas and Vembu sold Zoho’s intellectual property to the new entity ZPCL for $50 million, though it’s unclear how and when the money was paid. Thomas said in his declaration that he thought payments were made over time. According to Srinavasan’s court filings, there is no evidence that the new entity ever paid. In his email, Vembu said the proceeds of the sale are still held by the original U.S. company, now called T&V Holdings, as cash, real estate assets and securities, “and have appreciated in value since the IP sale transaction.” As to the price, both Vembu and Thomas, in his deposition, say an independent valuation was done. Thomas also said he thought the price was fair but confirmed that no other offers were solicited.

In 2014, the IRS started an audit of Zoho. The case was later closed; Vembu said in his sworn statement that in 2017, the IRS concluded that it was a “legitimate arm’s length transaction.” Srinavasan’s legal team has asked for a copy of the IRS letter but has not received it yet.

In another twist, the company’s ownership changed yet again. According to a new cap table filed in 2015, Radha’s husband Dandapani dropped off the list of shareholders and Vembu’s brother Sekar showed up with a 35% stake.

Vembu is adamant he did nothing wrong. In his sworn declaration in January, Vembu says “I never transferred my ownership interest in the Zoho Corporation to Radha without consideration.”

Also these changes took place years before their split, raising the question as to why. Some have suggested there was a tax benefit moving to India. Prior to 2012, software could be exported from India tax free from special economic zones; a government document shows that Zoho India is located in such a zone. Today software exports are still exempt from taxes on such items as goods and services, but income tax is applicable on profits, says Gautam Khurana, managing partner of India Law Offices in Delhi, India, who also points out that it’s much easier for an Indian company to hire Indian staffers than one that’s U.S. based. It is also possible that Vembu and Thomas did, in fact, believe they got a fair deal.

There is no doubt that Vembu has run the show from the start, overseeing a period of immense growth. Today the still privately-held Zoho has 12,000 employees and 80 million users of its software. Revenue for the year through March 2022 hit $922 million, and Forbes values the company at $4.5 billion.

As for his ex-wife and son, Vembu is remorseful: “Our family was destroyed by the tragedy of autism. Pramila was a super-mom of autism, and she truly made heroic efforts,” said Vembu, who described two decades of non-stop treatment for their son with so many drugs, infusions, therapies and increasingly risky treatments that he could no longer condone. “I was so depressed that I considered suicide at one point. Eventually I found my own relief to my suffering through service to rural poor in India.”

His uncle suggests in his deposition that Vembu might have bigger plans. Vembu, who supports the ruling BJP party in India and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, could go into politics: “Now that he has money, next thing is power.”

Regardless, this case won’t be settled any time soon. Srinivasan’s legal team has asked for 147 categories of documents and a spokesperson for her said that “Pramila looks forward to her day in court and the opportunity to shed light on the transactions Sridhar never disclosed to her over 10 years and is trying to use to deprive her and their son of their fair share under the laws of the state of California. She trusts the California court to do justice after hearing all the evidence.”

Says Charles Kolstad, a partner at the law firm Withers Worldwide who specializes in international tax and corporate matters and has been in practice for four decades, “There is a pattern of successful entrepreneurs whose spouses have supported them, and weird things happen…and the spouses get left in the lurch. It’s sad.”


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Tindered out? How to avoid creeps, time wasters and liars this Valentine’s Day

Michelle has had her fair share of bad dates.

A divorced mother of four children, Michelle, 52, resolved to maintain her sense of humor when she returned to the dating market, and signed up for Hinge, an online dating service that includes voice memos, in addition to audio and video functions that enable two interested parties to talk to each other without sharing their phone numbers. 

Given that she had not dated since she was in her 20s, Michelle, who asked for her surname to be withheld, was thrown into the world of online dating, right swipes, ghosting, men who were actually living overseas, married men, men who lied about their age and men who posted photos that were 10 years old. She split from her husband of nearly two decades in 2014. 

Hinge is part of’s

group of apps along with OKCupid, Tinder, Bumble, and Christian Mingle, among others. The company promotes itself as the app that is designed to be deleted by its users. It’s a bold statement in the era of online dating, when people scroll through profiles — swiping right for yes and left for no — in search of their perfect mate.

But Hinge, like many other dating apps, introduced a video function in 2020 to help push people to “meet” during the worst days of the coronavirus pandemic. Dating experts advise applying the same rules you would to a Zoom

call: dress smartly, use an overhead light rather than a backlight that casts you in shadow, and don’t sit in front of yesterday’s pile of dirty laundry.

‘It’s amazing how many guys use a picture from 10 years ago. You can barely recognize them when you meet them.’

— Michelle, 52, a divorced mother of four who searched for love online

A video date will reveal a lot more than a profile picture. “It’s amazing how many guys use a picture from 10 years ago,” Michelle said. “You can barely recognize them when you meet them. I discovered that someone who is very quick to ask for your email address or your number is more likely to be a scammer. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of scamming on dating apps.”

She’s not wrong. Nearly 70,000 Americans lost $1.3 billion to romance scams through social media and dating apps last year, up from 56,000 the year before, according to the Federal Trade Commission. That’s broadly in line with the amount of money lost the previous year, but up significantly from the $730 million lost in 2020. 

Through her work as a social worker, Michelle has learned to evaluate people and look for red flags. She has used those skills when online dating. She watches out for “goofy stuff” like a man who is writing like a character from a romance novel. “The Lifetime Channel Christmas Love Story is not happening on Hinge,” she said. “Those are the things that I kind of find funny.” 

Other red flags: Someone who lies about their age, is unwilling to meet, won’t turn on the video chat function — what have they got to hide? — and a man who is cheap. “Why did I drive 45 minutes to meet you and you can’t even buy me a cup of coffee? I don’t want someone who is stingy. Either they’re really miserly, have poor judgment, or poor people skills.”

The perilous side of handheld love machines

Dating apps are the ultimate love machine, churning out potential partners every two seconds, someone who is taller, younger, hotter, richer, broader, slimmer, sexier, kookier, weirder — and the list goes on. All of life’s parade is a swipe away. Millions of people use dating apps — from Grindr for gay men to Facebook Dating for pretty much everyone.

There is a balance between keeping people swiping and helping them find love. It’s a numbers game, and can be as addictive as playing the slots. EHarmony promotes its Compatibility Score, while OKCupid asks users to answer an almost limitless number of questions in order to match with more appropriate people. But critics say it leads to the gamification of people’s love lives.

Jenny Taitz, author of “How to Be Single and Happy: Science-Based Strategies for Keeping Your Sanity While Looking for a Soul Mate,” said one of the most common complaints about dating apps is the constant game of cat and mouse. Each user is probably talking to several people at the same time, and it’s tough to get people off the apps and into the real world.

If you like someone, she says, move to a video chat to test the chemistry. “It’s time-consuming, but you need to move from a pen pal to an in-person meetup,” she said. “It could be something that you do all the time, so you really have to have limits. If you’re having four dates a week, does that mean you’re not making time for friendships where you have an investment?”

‘The same person who volunteers at a soup kitchen might easily ghost someone. There is so much detachment.’

— Jenny Taitz, author of ‘How to Be Single and Happy’

Anonymity can often lead to ghosting, when people just disappear or stop answering messages. “We need to treat people like they would treat their future child or best friend,” Taitz said. “Bad behavior is so pervasive, and people are not held accountable for their actions. The same person who volunteers at a soup kitchen might easily ghost someone. There is so much detachment.”

Some studies have linked dating apps with depression, while other studies have found that online dating has led to a string of robberies through hook-ups on Grindr, and can also make it easier for sexual predators to find victims. These problems obviously exist in the real world, but social media and dating apps can provide an easier path for bad actors. 

Julie Valentine, a researcher, sexual-assault nurse examiner, and associate dean of Brigham Young University’s College of Nursing, analyzed 1,968 “acquaintance” sexual assaults that occurred between 2017 and 2020. She and her fellow researchers concluded that 14% of these sexual assaults resulted from a dating-app’s first in-person meeting. 

“One-third of the victims were strangled and had more injuries than other sexual-assault victims,” the study found. “Through dating apps, personas are created without being subjected to any criminal background checks or security screening. This means that potential victims have the burden of self-protection.” 

All those coffees take time and money

A spokeswoman for said it does not release data on how many people have actually used the video chat function. If people did use the function more often without sharing their phone number, it would in theory provide a layer of protection, help weed out bad actors, and help people decide whether a prospective date is compatible early in the process.

Cherlyn Chong, the Las Vegas-based founder of Get Over Him, a program to help women get over toxic relationships, does not believe the video chat function is as widely used as it should be. Chong, who describes herself as a dating coach and a trauma specialist, encourages her clients to use every method available to screen dates, in addition to meeting in a public place.

So what if a man did not want to video chat? “If they didn’t want to video, that’s fine,” Chong said. “But their reaction to the request would be a litmus test. We would know he is probably not someone to date, as he is not flexible. It’s also very telling if a woman explains that it’s a safety issue. The response of the guy in that situation would also be another litmus test.”

“Once you give someone their phone number, you don’t know what they are going to do with it,” Chong said. She said one of her clients encountered a man who shared her phone number with others, and sent it to a spam site on the internet. “You want to believe in the best of people,” she said, “but there are people who misuse your number because they can’t handle rejection.”

‘A couple of cocktails in New York City? You’re looking at $60 to $100, or a few hundred dollars for a pricier meal.’

— Connell Barrett, author of ‘Dating Sucks, But You Don’t’

Connell Barrett, author of “Dating Sucks, But You Don’t,” said video dates are a good first step. “You can see your date, and read their body language,” he said. “Because physical contact is off the table for a video date, it can free both singles to let go and not worry about the pressure about moving in for the first kiss. Good chemistry happens when there’s less pressure.”

Video dating also saves you time and money, especially if you’re the one who picks up the tab. “A couple of cocktails in New York City? You’re looking at $60 to $100, or a few hundred dollars for a pricier meal,” he said. Regular daters could end up spending up to $1,500 a month in bigger cities, if they’re dating a lot and eating out, Barrett added.

How much you spend will clearly depend on your lifestyle. Members of The League, a dating app that’s geared towards professionals, spend up to $260 a month on dates, followed by $215 a month for singletons using Christian Mingle, $198 for people signed up to, and $174 for Meta’s

Facebook Dating subscribers, according to a recent survey. 

A video call allows people to get a sense of the person’s circumstances and personality, and can avoid wasting an hour having coffee with someone you will never see again. Be fun, be playful, don’t ask about exes or grill the other person “60 Minutes”-style, Barrett said. “A big mistake people make in dating is trying to impress the other person,” he said.

Video dating goes back to the 1970s

Jeff Ullman created the first successful video-dating service in Los Angeles in 1975 called Great Expectations. People recorded messages direct-to-camera. “We started with Betamax, moved to VHS, and upgraded to CD-ROMs,” he said. “As long as there are adults, there will be the hunt for love, and there will be the longing for ‘I’m missing someone, I’m missing something,’” he told MarketWatch.

“The best and the brightest did not go into dating services in the 1970s and 1980s,” he said. “I only went into it because I wanted to change the world. What I wanted to do was turn pity to envy. Our videos were 5 or 6 minutes long. There were no stock questions. They had to be ad-libbed. The only similar question was the last one: ‘What are the qualities that are most important in a relationship?’” 

He turned Great Expectations into a national franchise where customers paid $595 to $1,995 a year for membership ($1 in 1975 is around $5 today). “We did not hard sell you. We did a ‘heart sell.’ We had all kinds of Type As — doctors, lawyers, studio production chiefs, who all thought they were God’s gift, or God’s gift to womankind, but when they talked about their loneliness, they cried.”

People will always be searching for that perfect mate, Ullman said, whether it’s through videos, words, photos, psychological compatibility, A.I., or through arranged marriages or matchmakers. “But there is no perfect match. My wife Cindy and I are well matched. She’s not perfect. I’m not perfect. The moment either one of us begins to think we’re perfect is the moment we introduce negative forces.”

‘What I wanted to do was turn pity to envy. Our videos were 5 or 6 minutes. There were no stock questions.’

— Jeff Ullman, created Great Expectations, a video-dating service in Los Angeles in 1975

Before TikTok and Skype, people were not as comfortable in front of the camera, particularly if they had to talk about themselves. “We always hid the camera,” Ullman said. The 1970s decor of dark wood and indoor plants made that easier. “When we were finished, they’d say, ‘When are you going to start?’” But they were already on tape. They were, he said, happy with the first take 95% of the time.

Ullman required his franchisees to give members a three-day right to cancel for any reason — including “I’m not going to tell you” — if they changed their terms of service. “They just had to mail us or fax us their notice. Half of my franchisees were about to revolt.” Until, he said, they realized they could not afford to have a bad reputation in an industry where people were putting their hearts on the line.

It all started with a Sony-Matic Portable Videocorder gifted to him by his parents when he graduated from UC Berkeley in 1972. “They were very expensive, but they were portable. Whenever I went anywhere, whether it was a parade or a demonstration, which were common back then, they always let me in because they thought I was from “60 Minutes.” It gave us a sense of power.”

Fast forward to 2023: That power is in the hands of the $3 billion online dating industry and, perhaps to a lesser extent, in the hands of the singletons who are putting their own messages out into the world through words and pictures. In the 1970s, most people were still meeting in person. These days, your online competition is, well, almost every single person within a 50-mile radius.

Watching out for those ‘green flags’

Video dating has come in handy for singletons like Andrew Kneeshaw, a photographer and publican in Streete, County Westmeath, a small town in the Irish midlands. He’s currently active on three dating sites: Plenty of Fish, Bumble and Facebook Dating. In-app video calls have saved him — and his potential dates — time, gasoline and money spent on coffee and lunch. 

“Even someone local could be 15 or 20 miles away,” he said. He’s currently talking to a woman in Dublin, which is more than an hour away. “Hearing someone’s voice is one thing, but seeing that they are the genuine person they are supposed to be on the dating site definitely does help.” He could spend upwards of 20 euros ($21.45) on coffee/lunch, excluding gasoline.

He did go on a dinner date recently without having a video call, and he regretted it. “Neither of us felt there was a spark,” Kneeshaw said. So they split the check as they would likely never see each other again? “That sounds terrible, but yes,” he said. “I go on a date at best once a week. If you’re doing it a few times a week, it does add up very quickly.”

Ken Page, a Long Beach, N.Y.-based psychotherapist and host of the Deeper Dating podcast, is married with three children, and has compassion for people like Kneeshaw who live in more remote areas. In New York, he said, some people won’t travel uptown if they live downtown, and many more people won’t even cross the river to New Jersey. 

‘If it’s a video chat, you have the opportunity to get to know them more, and have that old-fashioned courtship experience.’

— Ken Page, a psychotherapist and host of the Deeper Dating podcast

He said green flags are just as important as red flags when deciding to move from a video date to an in-person date. “Is their smile warm and engaging? Are you attracted to the animation they have in their face? You just get tons more data when you see the person. You save money, and you save time before you get to the next step.”

In-person first dates can be brutal. “Your first reaction is, ‘they’re not attractive enough, I’ve got to get out of here,’” Page said. “If it’s a video chat, you have the opportunity to get to know them more, and have that old-fashioned courtship experience where attraction starts to grow. The ‘light attractions’ have more opportunity to grow without the pressure of meeting in person.”

Dating apps are a carousel of romantic dreams. The focus is on looks rather than personality or character. “There are so many people waiting online,” Page said. “That does not serve us. Unless the person really wows us, we swipe left. If you do a video chat, you will be more likely to get to know that person — instead of only getting to know the ‘9s’ and ‘10s.’”

And Michelle? The divorced Californian mother of four said she finally met a guy on Hinge last October, and they’ve been dating since then. “He’s just a fabulous guy. He actually moved slower than what I had experienced with other guys I had dated.” She kept her sense of humor and perspective, which helped. “He said, ‘You’re so funny.’ I didn’t have anything to lose.”

“It’s almost going to Zara
” she said. “Nine times out of 10 you may not find something you like, but one time out of 10 you do.”

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