Even in instances in which there is a will and executor, disputes can arise about the validity of such documents. Such disputes will often see resolution following litigation in a probate court. When an incredibly wealthy railroad heiress died at the age of 104 in 2011, a reported 19 family members were confused when they were not left any share of the woman's $300 million estate. Instead, most of the fortune went to the medical professionals that cared for her at end of life, a legal representative, an accountant and a few institutions.
The validity of this distribution of the substantial estate is being challenged in probate court as a trustee that the court appointed works to get the beneficiaries to return the gifts they received after this woman's passing. The court-appointed trustee is taking this action because they have reason to believe that in this woman's old age and vulnerable state, she was wrongly coaxed into signing over her assets.
In the meantime, depending on the outcome of this probate litigation, several family members could stand to inherit a significant amount of money. A public administrator working on behalf of one of the family members attempted to track one man down to let him know that he could stand to inherit millions.
In a tragic happening, in pursuit of this man, authorities determined that the 60-year-old relative of the railroad heiress passed away of hypothermia under an overpass, destitute and apparently without a home. The man reportedly had become estranged from the rest of his family and never married or had children. Exactly what happened to this poor man that met such a sad end remains a mystery. It is difficult to say whether or not things would have been different for him had the validity of the estate plan been established sooner. Regardless, this is another sad happening in an unfortunate set of circumstances.
Many individuals look to take care of their loved ones after their passing. Estate planning is an effective method for doing this, but it is important to do so in a legally enforceable manner by employing a skilled estate planning attorney. Planning well ahead and making these decisions when an individual is of sound mind and body can avoid prolonged litigation over disputes to ensure an individual's true last wishes are observed.
Source: The New York Post, "Homeless heir to Huguette Clark's $19M fortune found dead in Wyoming," Jeane Macintosh, Dec. 31, 2012