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Will contest fails; girlfriend’s inheritance secure

Whether an average resident of Oklahoma or a wealthy celebrity, choosing to whom your assets should be given when you're gone is a decision only you can make. Giving careful consideration to estate planning and wills, and informing those involved about it ahead of time, can ease the way for probate and personal property distribution for families.

Court intervention when there is a will contest does happen. Without finely tuned specifics, it may be necessary for a judge to determine a testator's intentions. The Supreme Court in another state recently had to resolve inheritance issues that surfaced when four children of a blues singer who passed away in 1998 came forward to dispute the estate administration.

The musician's will left his entire estate to his girlfriend. The founding member of his record label was named executor, and served as such until the court removed him in 2009. Only four of the guitar prodigy's alleged 36 children filed the litigation. Their original challenge was dismissed by the lower court.

Appealing to the state Supreme Court, the siblings alleged the confidential relationship between the singer and his executor allowed for him to be influenced when choosing his heir. Testimony at the trial revealed that he was illiterate and needed help to understand contracts. He didn't have an attorney present when he signed the will.

The Court ruled there was no indication that the uncompensated executor exerted any influence on the decedent. Further, he was an intelligent man who had no diminished mental capacity. Contestants hadn't raised that issue in any event. Therefore, the rhythm and blues icon's intention was to leave his estate to his girlfriend. They found no plan by the executor to avoid the 36 children as was alleged in their appeal.

This type of lengthy probate process might have been avoided with a more personalized approach to estate planning and the actual writing of the will. Whether simple or complex, inheritance issues can be lessened or prevented by a careful evaluation of goals and wishes combined with skilled wording of the appropriate documents.

Source: Courthouse News Service, "Blues Singer’s Children Out of Luck on Estate" Jeff D. Gorman, Mar. 25, 2014

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