Over the past few months, we have blogged on updates regarding the probate litigation unfolding after the passing of "All in the Family" actor, Sherman Hemsley. The dispute arose regarding the will left by the late actor, and meant that his remains could not be laid to rest until the dispute was resolved.
The actor's will left the entirety of his estate to his long time friend and former business manager. After the actor's death, a man emerged that claimed to be Hemsley's brother, disputing the authenticity of the will that was created only six weeks before the actor passed away from lung cancer.
An individual can make known what he or she wishes to have done with their remains through a will by appointing an individual to handle burial arrangements. In the absence of a will, the state can be left to appoint an individual to make that decision. Under Texas law, where the actor passed away, in the absence of a will that decision lands with the closest blood relative.
It is not uncommon for families to have disputes, or fall out of touch. If an individual does not expressly state their final wishes regarding their remains through a will, the decision can be left to an individual that the decedent was not close to. Accordingly, the actor's remains could not be buried until the dispute was resolved because the actor's friend and alleged brother both had different ideas regarding where the actor should be buried.
DNA testing did prove that the man in question was the actor's half-brother. However, the lawyer that prepared the will for the actor prior to his death testified to the validity of the will. Additionally, a nurse stood trial that confirmed that the actor was of sound mind when he laid out the terms of his will. As such, the will was ruled valid, and the actor's long time friend will be the sole beneficiary of the actor's estate. Finally, months after his passing, the actor's remains can be laid to rest.
In Los Angeles, individuals can avoid this type of prolonged dispute by ensuring that estate planning documents, including a will, are signed well in advance of the end. This can leave less room for dispute regarding the authenticity of the documents, and the individual's last wishes.
Source: Forbes, "Court Ruling Finally Allows Body of late Jefferson Star To 'Move On Up,'" Danielle and Andy Mayoras, Nov. 12, 2012