We have been following the ongoing battle over the estate of Gary Coleman, the actor from Diff’rent Strokes. As we’ve noted in previous posts on the matter, Coleman died at the age of 42 leaving behind two different plans for his estate. In his first will, he named his ex-girlfriend as executor and beneficiary of his estate, but a handwritten codicil composed after his marriage left his estate to his then-wife. The two women have been contending over Coleman’s estate, his ex-wife claiming that they had reconciled after their divorce and that they were living in a common-law marriage at the time of his death.
The judge in charge of the case has reportedly ruled against Coleman’s ex-wife, however, finding that they were not actually in a common law marriage at the time of his death. The ruling means that she will not be able to enforce the codicil and that Coleman’s original will stands.
The judge’s ruling was apparently based on a findings that Coleman and his ex-wife did not have the relationship she claimed that had. In particular, it was found that she physically abused Coleman in public, led him around by the hand like a child, showed him no physical affection and slept in a separate room than he. There was also reportedly a point at which Coleman had obtained a restraining order against her. In addition, she was romantically involved with another man during the time she claimed Coleman and her were married.
Ultimately, the judge didn’t find her story credible, making the codicil invalid.
As we’ve noted before, the biggest lesson in this story is that estate planning involves not only setting up one’s documents, but updating them when plans change. Without doing so, a plan can easily become outdated and fail to achieve its purpose-disposing of one’s assets in the way one truly wishes them to be disposed.
Source: Forbes, “Court Rules Against Gary Coleman’s Ex, Finds She Abused And Cheated On Him,” Danielle & Andy Mayoras, May 17, 2012.