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Did Stepmom File a Fake Will?

Bigstock-Last-Will-76726700There is nothing new about children of a deceased millionaire fighting with a step-parent over the estate. A case in New York, however, is a bit unusual in some aspects.

Along with a $10 million estate, Dr. Nathaniel Shafer left behind a feud between his wife and his two adult children by a different marriage. His will left the entire estate to the wife and her child by a different marriage.

Problem: Jennifer and Robert Shafer, the children from a previous marriage, are claiming that their stepmother filed a fake will.  They want the court to throw that will out and to use an earlier will that leaves half of the estate to them. To prove their claim, the Shafer siblings are asking the court to waive a doctor-patient privilege so a therapist the couple saw can testify about their relationship.

The New York Post reported this story in an article titled "Siblings claim stepmom filed fake will to get $10M inheritance."

Claims of fake wills are not quite as common as claims of using undue influence to have someone create a new will. That might be because wills are not particularly easy to fake. It is not quite as simple as merely forging the deceased's signature. Wills require witnesses for a reason: so they can be called to testify that they did in fact see the deceased sign the will.

The original article does not explain how the siblings plan to get around the witness issue, if the witnesses are able to testify that they saw Shafer sign the will that was filed with the court. As is often the case, there may be more to this than meets the eye.

For more information about estate planning, please visit my estate planning website.

Reference: New York Post (August 28, 2015) "Siblings claim stepmom filed fake will to get $10M inheritance."

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New Problem for Ernie Banks’ Estate

Bigstock-Wrigley-Field--Chicago-Cubs-7973350The estate of Ernie Banks has been involved in a bitter feud with his ex-wife. As if that were not enough, now one of his friends has stepped forward with a claim against the estate.

The fight between the estate of Ernie Banks and his estranged wife is destined to be a lengthy and costly one. In the end, it might not matter as there might not be much of an estate to distribute.

Now, Banks' friend, Shirley Marx, has entered a claim against the estate for $80,000. Marx claims this is the amount she loaned to Banks while he worked for her family's moving company. However, the loans were not documented, which will make it difficult for Marx to prove her claims.

The Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog reported on this in "Estate of Ernie Banks Faces New Challenge As Creditor Steps Forward."

The problem? If Banks was so cash-strapped that he had to borrow $80,000 from a friend, then his estate is unlikely to have enough assets to cover the costs of all of this litigation and still have assets left over to distribute to whoever the eventual winner of these battles turns out to be.

This is a common problem with estates that seem just large enough to fight over. By the time the fighting is over, the only people left with anything are the attorneys.

That does not mean that you should not hire an attorney or not fight over an estate against which you have a legitimate claim. On the other hand, it does mean that when fighting over an estate, you need to be mindful of the attorney's fees the estate is paying.

In the end, an estate planning attorney can help you make a more informed decision about when it is best to settle the case instead of continuing to fight over an ever-dwindling sum.

For more information about estate planning, please visit my estate planning website.

Reference: Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog (August 29, 2015) "Estate of Ernie Banks Faces New Challenge As Creditor Steps Forward."

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Be Mindful of the Statute of Limitations

TEREUy1vSfuSu8LzTop3_IMG_2538Every civil action in the United States is subject to a statute of limitations. That is a time period within which a lawsuit must be filed after the complained of activity took place. Failure to file within that time period may have cost one estate millions of dollars.

Wealthy copper heiress Huguette Clark was likely a troubled woman. For 20 years before her 2011 death at the age of 104, she had lived in a private room at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York. However, it appears that there may have been no medical reason for her to have been confined to that room.

Her executor filed a lawsuit against the medical center alleging that it had unnecessarily bilked Clark out of millions of dollars due to the confinement and through smarmy friendships. In total, the estate was seeking $95 million from the hospital.

According to The New York Post‘s article, "Hospital doesn't owe Huguette Clark's estate due to loophole," the case has been thrown out because it was not brought within the statute of limitations. It is important to note that this is not a decision on the merits of the case.

Even if the case had not been dismissed because of the statute of limitations, Clark's estate still would have had to prove its case against the hospital. The statute operates to block the estate from getting to argue the case on its merits.

The lesson here is that anytime you think that you have a potential legal action against someone else, you need to speak with an attorney as soon as possible. This is especially true for people administering an estate because they can potentially be held personally liable for mistakes made in the administration.

For more information about estate planning, please visit my estate planning website.

Reference: New York Post (August 24, 2015) "Hospital doesn't owe Huguette Clark's estate due to loophole."

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