Category Archives: Will Execution

Indian royalty’s 24-year will dispute slowly moving forward

This is not a story about a Stockton resident creating a will, nor about someone in El Paso making a sound estate plan; this is a story about royalty, riches and an estate worth nearly $3.1 billion. While the last will and testament of an Indian maharajah may not seem directly relevant to someone in Texas considering whether to draft a will, the two situations are not nearly as different as one might think.

The whole purpose of a will, whether it is for a Texan of modest means or a member of India’s noble class, is to deal with an individual’s estate and property. When a family member cuts someone out of the will, especially someone who normally would inherit, it can lead to a court battle, potentially lasting years.

For the two daughters of this former maharajah, their father’s will, which left one daughter nothing and the other a monthly stipened that is little more than $20, was disappointing to say the least. So, for the past 24 years, they have been fighting the will and the nobleman’s lawyers, arguing the will was fake. Recently, an Indian court agreed with the daughters, determining the will was forged and giving the daughters almost $3.1 billion.

The lawyers who originally were made responsible for the money, held in trust, have vowed to fight the ruling.

So, how does this apply to someone in Texas with a much smaller estate? Just like the maharajah, if someone drafts a will that leaves someone out, the individuals who do inherit may find themselves in court fighting for their inheritance. Working with an experienced estate planning attorney, however, can help protect against fighting, at least in the courtroom.

Source:The Guardian, “Maharajah’s daughters inherit £2bn after court battle over ‘forged’ will,” Jason Burke, July 29, 2013

James Gandolfini gifts many family, friends in his will

All too often, people in Stockton read stories of stars dying with no will. Their properties and estates end up going to family members that they would rather not have left anything to and, sometimes, to family members with whom they have not spoken in years. Though many stars do die without a will, the recent death of James Gandolfini reminds us that not every actor and actress does.

Gandolfini is probably best remembered by the people of west Texas as the actor to play Tony Soprano, a complex mobster in the HBO show “The Sopranos.” Yet, outside of the show he was anything but violent and cruel, and his will is a testament to his caring nature.

While it is not surprising that a majority of his estate goes to his 13-year-old son and infant daughter, what is shocking is how many generous gifts he left to the other people in his life. For example, he gave two of his friends $50,000 each, asking one of his friends to use the money for his son. The actor also gave his godson $100,000. His secretary and personal assistant were also to receive $200,000 each.

Had Gandolfini not made a will that specifically divided his approximately $70 million estate, none of those people would have received anything under normal intestacy laws. And, since he had children and was married at the time of his death, not even his sisters or his nieces would have received the generous sums that Gandolfini left them. Fortunately, however, the star knew that if he wanted his property to be distributed the way he wanted it, he would not be able to die without a will.

Source:New York Post, “James Gandolfini leaves bulk of $70M estate to his two children,” Julia Marsh, Jeane Macintosh and Kate Sheehy, July 3, 2013

Without estate planning, Texas’s intestacy laws can confuse

People like to plan things: what to do during vacation, what to have for dinner and what career move to make next. This planning also extends to what people would like to have happen after death, the problem is, however, that unless someone takes the proactive step of creating a will or some other estate planning tool, no one will know how the property should be distributed. Instead, El Paso residents’ property will become subject to Texas’s intestacy laws.

When someone dies intestate, or without an estate planning device in place, his or her property and assets are distributed according to a set of Texas statutes. The problem is that these laws can be convoluted and difficult to understand without the help of an estate planning lawyer. And, even if you can figure them out, they may not be how you want to divide your things after you die.

Take, for example, the following situation: a woman dies before both of her parents. The woman leaves behind two daughters, who ostensibly inherit their mothers’ possessions. When these daughters’ grandmother and then grandfather die, who gets what? While this may seem like a question used to stump law students, it is exactly the sort of problem Texas courts must resolve with no will or estate planning device in play.

It is likely that the daughters would receive their grandparents’ estate, but the situation can change very quickly with even the slightest variation to the story. When a family member does die and there is a question of who should get what, it is important to consult a estate planning attorney for clarification.

Source:San Antonio Express, “Do grandchildren or great-aunt inherit?” Paul Premack, June 19, 2013

Contradicting wills could lead to lengthy court battle

In a previous post we discussed charitable giving as one way to avoid conflict among friends and family over an estate plan. This is just one idea among many options to make gifts in an estate plan a gift and not a source of strife. The key to any successful estate plan is being complete and making sure there are no contradictions.

A lesson on this issue comes to us from a copper mining heiress whose two conflicting wills have set off a court battle over her substantial estate.

The problem is that the heiress, Huguette Clark, properly executed two different wills within six months, both completed at the age of 98. One leaves here entire estate to distant relatives, the same people who would each recieve a portion of the fortune if there was no will or if both wills are declared invalid. Ms. Clark apparently had never met many of them and did not list all of the potenital heirs by name.

The second will is more specific and leaves her fortune to a long time caretaker as well as establishing a charity. There is also an art collection and a valuable doll collection involved.

The problem is that the second will did not properly revoke the first will, so technically it should be invalid. However, if Ms. Clark was not in an appropriately coherent mental state at the time she executed the first will, that one may not be valid. As you may imagine, these issues are very difficult to determine after someone has already passed away.

Now, each of the parties who stands to gain from either version of the will is battling it out in court, which means that signficant portions of the estate will go to lawyers fees and court costs.

The lesson from this is very simple – be clear about your itentions and complete in your paperwork.

Source:The New York Times, “How to Avoid an Estate Battle After You Die,” Paul Sullivan, June 14, 2013