Friday, June 22, 2012

Who Will Fight Over Your Estate When You Die?


By Susan M. Graham, Certified Elder Law Attorney, Senior Edge Legal, Boise, Idaho

Here are two recent headlines “Uncivil Fight Over Rosa Parks Estate”[1] and “Dispute over Thomas Kinkade’s will heads to court”[2]

Rosa Parks, a civil-rights pioneer, died in 2005 leaving personal papers and effects worth potentially millions of dollars.  Her Last Will and Testament left most of her estate to a friend and a charity.  Two attorneys were appointed by a Michigan probate judge to handle the estate.  A lawsuit has been filed by the two heirs to remove the judge and recover administrative and attorney fees of $595,000 that have been charged against the estate.   What is the end result?  More attorney fees and less money to be distributed to Mrs. Parks friend and charity.  This result is clearly not what she wanted.

Then there is the Thomas Kinkade Estate.  This financially successful artist died in April, 2012 at age 54.  His girlfriend found his body.  At the time he had been  separated from his wife for two years, and living with his girlfriend.   The girlfriend has asserted a claim for $10,000,000 and a mansion, all based on two handwritten notes that were signed in 2011.  A hearing has been set for July where the court “will determine the authenticity and legal weight of the notes.”    What a mess.

There will be a huge amount spent on personal anguish as well as attorney fees in these two cases. 

How could this be avoided?  Working with a lawyer who understands estate planning ways to accomplish a client’s goals is a great first step.  Estate planning documents need to be kept up to date, because the Last Will and Testament goes into effect on the date of death, which may be years down the road. 

What can you do to avoid fights when you die?  Make certain your documents are up to date.  If they are not, or you are not sure, set up a review appointment with your estate planning attorney.

[1] The Wall Street Journal, May 18, 2012 page A2

[2] Associated Press, June 13, 2012



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