When a person dies, whether they have a will or not, in most cases, their estate must go through the probate process. The probate process varies from state to state, but generally, the probate process involves the executor (typically the person named by the decedent in their will) filing an inventory of all the estate’s assets with the court. The executor is in charge of verifying and paying all the debts of the estate and once that is complete and the court approves the will as valid, the executor distributes the assets per the instructions left in the will.
If there isn’t a will, then the assets are distributed per the estate laws of the state the decedent lived in. The court will appoint an executor in these cases.
During this probate process, anyone who is not named in the will and thinks they should be or is named in the will and thinks they are entitled to more can contest the will.
Anyone’s will is at risk of being contested, whether the estate is a large one or a small one. However, some of the most well-known legal battles over wills are celebrities. Some of the ones that may sound familiar are:
- John Lennon – His son Julian, from his first marriage, challenged his father’s will. This will contest lasted for 16 years and in the end, Julian and Yoko Ono, John’s widow, reached an out-of-court settlement.
- Robin Williams – When the actor died, he left his entire $100 million estate to his children, with the caveat that his wife could live in their home and the children would inherit the home upon her death. While his will was specific about the money and home, his instructions about the contents of the home were vague. A legal dispute between his wife and his children ensued, eventually settling the issue out of court.
- Michael Jackson – Although the singer did leave a will, there were still legal battles over his estate. Jackson intentionally left out his siblings in his will, but that did not stop them from contesting the will. There were also legal fights over custody of his children.
- James Brown – When the Godfather of Soul died, he did have a will, however, it was so vague it resulted in a 15-year legal fight. Brown’s will stated that his $90 million estate would be used for “scholarships for children in need.” Family members who were not in the will quickly contested it Years later, all those involved finally settled the estate.
Call an Estate Planning Lawyer for Legal Help
In order to avoid a long, drawn-out probate process or risk the court declaring your will invalid, it is critical to have a skilled and experienced estate lawyer draw up your will and ensure it conforms to the laws of the state you live in. While there are plenty of online websites that offer cheap, do-it-yourself legal forms to write up your will, these generic forms can end up being quite costly for your family.
Call a Lackawanna County, PA estate administration lawyer from Hoegen & Associates, P.C. to schedule a free and confidential consultation.