The possibility of a will contest is one thing proper estate planning is supposed to eliminate, or at least greatly reduce. Grounds on which will contests are waged generally focus on accusations that the person who left the will lacked testamentary capacity, was operating under a “insane delusion” at the time the will was established, or that somebody asserted undue influence or fraud upon him or her. Unfortunately, even good planning cannot reduce all possibility of a will contest.
A will contest is precisely what is going on now with the family of a U.S. copper heiress who was excluded from her $400 million estate. The woman apparently died at the age of 104 after spending decades in hospitals, using pseudonyms to hide her identity. The woman’s family has, according to Reuters, now produced a previously undiscovered will which claims to leave that wealth to her family.
At the woman’s death, a will was produced which left the bulk of her estate to a charitable foundation managed by her accountant and attorney. Each of them also received $500,000 in the will, and is now being investigated by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office.
The new will first appeared in court documents on Monday. That will was reportedly signed six weeks earlier than the previous will. According to the family’s attorney, the accountant and attorney manipulated the heiress into altering her will. He is alleging undue influence and “exploitation of a very elderly and extraordinarily wealthy woman.”
Both the accountant and attorney have apparently denied any wrongdoing in the handling the woman’s financial affairs.
While most will contests don’t have as much wealth at stake as is at stake here, families can and do challenge the validity of wills when it appears there may have been any impropriety.
Source: Reuters, “Family of reclusive U.S. copper heiress disputes will,” Chris Francescani, November 29, 2011.