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By John R. Merlino Jr. Esq.
Founding Attorney

Q: What situations often lead to a will contest?

Skilled Estate planning lawyers recommend that all people come in to establish an initial estate plan upon turning 18 years of age because, while it’s difficult to consider, death or disability can strike even the young at any time.

Not only should estate plans be created when you are young, they should be updated periodically if life changing events such as marriages, births, deaths, divorces or other circumstances warrant modification of the plan.

Getting your estate planning attorney involved can often help avoid a will contest after you have passed away. Changes to an estate plan without legal guidance can have disastrous outcomes.

The famous Oscar Wilde quote that “life imitates art far more than art imitates life” apparently didn’t hold true at the end of the life of the multimillionaire who created Department 56. The man whose famous and beautiful ceramic Christmas villages and popular miniatures—including the Snow Babies series, the Dickens Village and others–reportedly spent his final months in an ugly literal “tug-of-war” between his sister and his new, young husband as his ailing body was reportedly shuffled back and forth between them. After he died, the battle over his estate continued.

Will contests are often sparked by the following common situations:

  • a child is excluded from a parent’s will
  • children receive unequal inheritances
  • recent changes are made to an old will
  • the choice of executor is questioned or disputed.

In the case at hand, the sister alleged her brother was “targeted” by some ambitious male real estate broker 43 years his junior who moved in with him not long after they met. She alleged that not only did her brother change afterwards, but he started making significant changes to his “decades old estate plan” in favor of the man he married just 10 months before his death.

The young spouse claimed he supported the mogul through “treatment for alcoholism” and cared for him as his health failed. But the sister alleged the spouse—who she reportedly feared had much to gain financially upon her brother’s death– may have neglected him, withheld medications, and interacted with him in an overbearing manner.

After falling ill, he was reportedly moved from a New York City hospital to Minnesota by his sister where he allegedly “signed papers revoking the changes to his will, including his bequests to [his spouse]” before the spouse moved him back to New York where he died shortly thereafter.

Whether alleged changes to his will were made in accordance with the appropriate state laws, whether he had the mental capacity to make those changes, and whether he was coerced to do so inappropriately, will be some of the many questions for the court to decide as litigation continues.

If you need assistance with an initial estate plan, or would like to modify an existing estate plan, the will and estate planning attorneys at Merlino & Gonzalez can help you. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

From our offices in Staten Island, New York, and East Brunswick, New Jersey, we represent estate planning clients in both New York and New Jersey.

About the Author
John is a fierce advocate and the office guru for problem-solving and brainstorming. He guides clients through every stage of a real estate transaction from offer to contract, navigating through nerve-shattering home inspection and title clearance concerns, maintaining constant contact with lenders, conducting the actual closing, and continuing to advise clients with regard to any post-closing concerns.  John brings a practical and fair-minded approach to the process which has earned him the respect of his clients and peers.