When most people envision legal trials, the first images that pop to mind involve bizarre crimes or large class action lawsuits. Thanks to movies and television shows, there is an assumption that trials are only for deciding whether someone is going to prison or if a large corporation acted inappropriately and hurt hundreds of innocent community members.
But believe it or not, trials actually stem from far less salacious situations–even disputes over wills and trusts.
$300 Million Estate Fight
For example, according to the most recent reports, it looks like a trial might be on the way for the on-going New York estate feud involving heiress Huguette Clark. We have been following the drama for several years. Ms. Clark’s reclusive life and interesting family history caught the public interest, and disputes over her fortune have subsequently made headlines.
As summarized in a CNBC article this week, ongoing settlement negotiations between Clark’s relatives and others involved in the case seems to have broken down. The disputes many different parties named as beneficiaries, including family members, former nurses, her attorney, accountant, a charitable foundation, and the hospital where she lived in her final decades.
One of the main disputes is whether her relatives–from her father’s first marriage–should receive anything. The latest will signed by Clark purportedly states in explicit terms that those relatives should receive nothing. The family members have since challenged the will.
Unfortunately, a settlement with all of the divergent interests could not be reach. As a result, a trial is now scheduled to settle the matter. According to the report it is set to being on September 17th n a Manhattan Surrogate’s Court.
Prevent a Fight
Estate feuds are not unique only to those with extreme wealth. When no advanced planning is done, even families with few assets can be torn apart in fighting. To ensure this does not happen in your case, it is important to visit with an estate planning attorney to make your wishes explicit.
At the end of the day there is nothing that can be done to 100% guarantee that there will not be a dispute down the road. However, a lawyer who works on these matters can explain the many options available to drastically reduce the chance of problems. For example, instead of primarily relying on a will, trusts can be used to transfer assets automatically. This help avoid the common claim, as made in Huguette Clark’s case, that one was incompetent at the time of a will signing or unduly pressured into making certain provisions in the legal document.