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Estate administration and probate: Wife claims undue influence

As a person in Georgia ages and faces the prospect of his or her immortality, there is often a great deal of reflection regarding his or her legacy. Even when there are detailed plans in place regarding estate administration and probate, disputes can arise, resulting in litigation. Unfortunately, an estranged wife and the trustee of her husband's estate, a bank, are currently locked in such a conflict.

The conflict involves an estate valued at approximately $43 million. The creator of the estate, an 84-year-old man who died in Nov. 2016, met his current wife just months after his first wife passed away in 2002. Seven months later, they married. He dismissed any objections his friends had over his fast marriage to a woman 20 years younger than him.

Although they lived together for six years, she reportedly left him in 2008. While they would see each other periodically over the next few years, reports indicate that the last time they saw each other resulted in a fight that reportedly prompted her to write him a letter claiming she could not talk to him again. However, she asked him to continue supporting her.

Months before he died, he altered a trust, allowing her to live off the income of his estate which would be controlled by a bank. Afterward, his remaining assets would be used as a donation to a fund that supports several charities. However, his wife recently filed a lawsuit claiming that the change to his estate plan was either the result of undue influence on the part of his bank or that he was incompetent at the time that the change was made; the bank contends that he remained competent until his death and expressed concern that the woman may attempt to profit from the sale of stocks associated with the estate -- an act the bank claims would be contrary to the man's wishes.

Unfortunately, the estate administration and probate process in Georgia and across the country can be complicated, especially for larger estates. A frank conversation with intended beneficiaries can help ensure there is no confusion about how a trust will be controlled. However, in some situations, a dispute may be inevitable making is necessary to ensure that a person creating an estate has professionals fighting to protect his or her interests and wishes.

Source: orlandosentinel.com, "Battle over $43 million estate explodes in vitriol", Lauren Ritchie, July 28, 2017

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