The State recently reported on another “will contest” involving a well-known South Carolina family. The story is an example of a very common estate planning problem, disagreement between adult children and a second (or third) spouse.
The basics of the family situation are well known. The patriarch, former University of South Carolina football coach Jim Carlen, had three children with his first wife, Sharon. In the early 1980s, Carlen divorced Sharon and married his second wife, Meredith. Carlen and Meredith had one child together. While specific details are sparse, it seems that Meredith and the Carlen children from the first marriage may not have had the best relationship. Tension of this sort is quite common among all families with parents who re-marry following divorce or death.
In Carlen’s case, the children are claiming that the man’s second wife exercised undue influence on him in his waning years, taking advantage of his dementia. Carlen apparently wrote a series of wills (among other estate planning documents). The first, in 1970, left his assets to his wife and children. All subsequent wills were similar, with the children left substantial property.
Yet, in 2010, that changed. Already in poor mental and physical health and unable to drive on his own, Carlen was allegedly driven to a new attorney. He had been diagnosed with dementia in 2009. At that time the attorney presented him with a re-drafted will. Carlen signed the document.
The petition that the three adult children filed while challenging the will lays out the situation: “Unlike the 2007 will which provided for both Coach Carlen’s children and his wife, Meredith, the 2010 will left all of his property to his wife Meredith and left nothing whatsoever to his children or grandchildren: not money; not personal property; not a photograph; (nor) memorabilia from any point in Coach Carlen’s career or a token for them to remember him by.”
It wasn’t even until after the coach’s death last year the adult children learned of the latest will and the fact that they had been totally disinherited. All told, the estate valued at about $10 million would pass to his second-wife, Meredith. Carlen’s three adult children and twelve grandchildren would receive nothing.
In seeking to have the 2010 will declared void, the children petitioned the court claiming that it was the product of undue influence at a time when he had diminished mental capacity.
Preventing these sorts of “will contest” should be up paramount important to all New Yorkers when crafting an estate plan. Please contact our office to see how we can help.