Probate litigation is a branch of law that deals with matters such as deceased estates, guardianships, conservatorships, and disability. When heirs fight a probated Will or disagree over the distribution of inheritance property, one of the most typical reasons people use probate litigators.
Probate litigation is frequently required to settle intestate estates, which are estates in which the decedent did not leave a valid Will before his or her death. Death has a strange way of bringing out the worst in people. When it comes to significant goods or large sums of money, there’s a good risk that a greedy person is lurking around the corner, ready to grab inheritance assets.
Intestate estates are resolved according to state probate laws. The surviving spouse or straight lineage relatives are usually handed inheritance property. The estate, however, must go through the probate process to identify who the true heirs are. Anyone can file a claim in court, but they must show that they are entitled to the money or property they seek.
When people file inheritance claims, the probate process might take months to complete. To guarantee that claimants are entitled to estate assets, the court must do due diligence. Probate can be suspended for years while courts establish who is entitled, depending on the type of claim and the amount of the property.
The celebrity cases of James Brown, Anna Nicole Smith, and Jimi Hendrix are good examples of probate litigation. These legendary people were undoubtedly grumbling in their graves about how their properties were being fought over.
When James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, died, he had a valid Will in place. When he married his fifth wife, Tomi Rae Hynie Brown, with whom he had a biological son, he did not update his Will. Hynie challenged the Will, and several of Brown’s relatives filed a lawsuit against the executors of the estate.
Jame’s family also disputed on where his remains should be buried, as well as his irrevocable living trust, which left his musical legacy to charity. Brown’s estate was in probate for more than three years, costing his estate millions of dollars in probate lawsuit fees. Brown’s estate is still the subject of ongoing legal proceedings.
Jimi Hendrix, the rock and roll guitarist, died in 1970 without leaving a valid Will. What ensued was one of the most famous court disputes in history, which lasted more than two decades. Until Hendrix’s father, Al, sued for control in 1990, the estate was overseen by a probate lawyer.
Al Hendrix passed away in 2002, leaving Jimi’s assets to his adoptive daughter, Janie. Leon, Jimi’s brother, launched a lawsuit in order to gain control of the estate. The judge eventually awarded assets to both Janie and Leon, but the costs of probate litigation were enormous.
The case of J. Howard Marshall II, Anna Nicole Smith’s spouse, is perhaps the most well-known and contentious celebrity probate dispute case. Marshall died in August 1995, but Smith wasn’t given $475 million until 2000. Marshall’s son, Pierce, promptly challenged the award. Despite the fact that Pierce Marshall died in 2006 and Anna Nicole died in 2007, the case is still being litigated and is set to be heard by the Supreme Court.
Most people never have to deal with this level of probate litigation, but dealing with a contested Will, family disputes, or inheritance claims may be expensive and emotionally demanding. While there is no guarantee that problems will not develop during probate, estate preparation can help to reduce the risks. Should problems emerge, it’s advisable to hire an experienced attorney to manage probate disputes.