Estate planning is an important task that really needs to be taken seriously. If care is not taken, disputes can arise between family members, strangers can make claims to your estate, and your funeral can be delayed.
If you're famous, these issues are often exacerbated because more people could claim to be related to you. This unfortunate issue has befallen Sherman Hemsley, best known as George Jefferson from "All in the Family" and "The Jeffersons." Hemsley's will states that his estate is to go to his longtime partner Flora Enchinton. However, a Philadelphia man, Richard Thornton, disputes Hemsley's will, claiming it was not written or signed by him, according to KVIA-TV in El Paso, Texas, where Helmsley lived for the past decade.
As the dispute goes on, Hemsley's body languishes at an El Paso funeral home. How can Thornton dispute Hemsley's will?
A will is a written document that designates how you would like your belongings to be transferred after death. It can also be used to express feelings towards family members, but its main purpose is to transfer your estate.
If you don't have a will, your belongings (and debts) will be distributed by a system called "intestate succession." For example, if you die without a will in New York, your estate would go first to your spouse and children. If you don't have a spouse or children, you estate would then go to your parents and then to your siblings if your parents are gone.
This is how Thornton can dispute Hemsley's will. As in all lawsuits, you must be directly affected by an event to have what is called "standing" in order to sue. In a will dispute, to have standing you are required to be a direct beneficiary of the will or would be a beneficiary if the will was found invalid.
Here, the dispute is centered around the veracity of Sherman Hemsley's will. Since Thornton would allegedly be a beneficiary if the will was invalid, he can bring his claim. Those defending the will can challenge Thornton's claim that he really is Hemsley's brother, which would have the effect of throwing out the dispute completely if he is found to be a fraud.
Let it be a warning that you need to have your estate plan as watertight as possible to avoid disputes like this. Needless to say, it is a good idea to make sure you also know where all your long lost siblings are.
- Find a New York City Estate Planning Lawyer (FindLaw)
- Supreme Court Reviews Anna Nicole Smith's Probate Dispute One More Time (FindLaw's New York Estate Planning News)
- Kinkade Estate Battle Continues (FindLaw's New York Estate Planning News)
- Contested Will Delays Burial of 'Jeffersons' Star Sherman Hemsley (The New York Times)