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Many people who die in prison, especially those incarcerated for decades, may die leaving estates with little to no value. Some may not even have a will. But if they own anything that doesn’t pass automatically to the heirs, or if their estate has the potential of coming into money after their death, their heirs will likely need to go through an estate administration attorney to get it.

What if the circumstances surrounding the inmate’s death prompted a wrongful death lawsuit which, if successful, could make the inmate’s estate worth millions of dollars. Who is entitled to inherit that money which becomes an asset of his estate– – the inmate’s family members or the families of the inmate’s murder victims?

New York and New Jersey estate administration attorneys and others are watching as this scenario is expected to play out in the recent death of so-called gangster inmate Whitey Bulger. Bulger was allegedly murdered in jail only hours after arriving in the West Virginia prison after being transferred from a Florida prison. The famous gangster inmate, who was serving a life sentence “for his role in 11 murders” was 89-years-old with a bad heart and confined to a wheelchair at the time of his brutal death.

His five siblings have reportedly laid claim to his estate which stands to be valued in the millions if the estate is successful in pursuing a wrongful death and negligence suit against the federal government.

The families of those 11 murder victims reportedly intend to take legal action to ensure that the settlement of any wrongful death or negligence lawsuit be divided among them instead of his siblings.

An executor of an estate, or its administrator in the event the person died without a will, is charged with the duty of gathering and safeguarding estate assets and distributing them in accordance with the decedent’s wishes, if expressed in a will, or in accordance with a court order directing its distribution. The murder victims’ families have reportedly previously benefit from sharing in over $822,000 which FBI agents reportedly found hidden in a wall in Bulger’s “hide-out” at the time of his arrest.

This is an extreme example but does illustrate how the value of an estate can increase as a result of unresolved lawsuits pending at the time of death or arising as a result of the death.

If you need assistance with estate planning or with the administration of an estate, the experts 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 help residents of both states in all aspects of estate planning and estate administration.