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Actor’s probate ordeal good reminder to do careful estate planning

As our readers know, the body of the late actor Sherman Hemsley has been in legal limbo in the face of legal challenges to his estate. Thankfully, Hemsley’s body will finally be put to rest, three-and-a-half months after he died from lung cancer.

Last Friday, a Texas court ruled in favor of Flora Enchinton, the woman named as the sole beneficiary of Hemsley’s will. Enchinton, as we’ve noted, was Hemsley’s manager and self-proclaimed best friend. Her rights as beneficiary were challenged, however, when Richard Thornton, a man claiming to be the actor’s half-brother, challenged the validity of the will.

Thornton had been ordered to undergo a DNA test to determine his relationship to Hemsley. His attorney acknowledged that the tests failed to prove they were brothers. In any case, Thornton missed the deadline to submit the test into evidence, so the judge didn’t take them into consideration anyway.

Hemsley’s body is set to be buried at Fort Bliss National Cemetery in El Paso. Hemsley had served in the Air Force in his younger years.

Unfortunately, though, court proceedings may not be completely over yet. Although the judge admitted the will to probate and appointed Enchinton as the independent executrix of Hemsley’s estate-giving her power to make decisions over the estate, Thornton’s attorney has said he plans to appeal the ruling.

Such challenges are a dreaded aspect of probate practice, and a good reminder of the need to do everything possible to plan carefully. While planning can’s always exclude all possibility of such legal struggles, a little bit can go a long way in reducing them.

Source: Fox News, “Military funeral planned for Sherman Hemsley, months after death,” Hollie McKay, November 14, 2012.