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Probate litigation over Gary Coleman's estate enters trial phase

Our Detroit-area readers may be familiar with Gary Coleman, the actor who starred in the television show "Diff'rent Strokes" from 1978 until 1986. Coleman died in 2010 at the age of 42 following an accident at his home that resulted in a serious brain injury. At the time of his death, Coleman was struggling financially, but he did have a will. However, that has not stopped two women in his life from fighting to establish his intent during recent probate litigation.

Previously, we have encouraged Michigan readers to plan for and maintain comprehensive estate plans, and the case of Gary Coleman should serve as an example as to why. His ex-wife and former girlfriend are currently battling over the administration of his assets, but more importantly, they are concerned with the rights to potential book and movie deals, as well as the right to use Coleman's likeness.

The actor did not leave behind a significant amount of assets. However, it has been indicated that the potential profits from future book and movie deals about Coleman could result in millions of dollars. Because of this, the women have recently gone to trial to contest the probate process surrounding Coleman's will.

A purported amendment to the will, put forward by the actor's ex-wife, is one of the main issues in the litigation. The ex-wife claims that Coleman changed his will, which left everything to his former girlfriend, by executing what is known as a codicil -- a legal filing that intends to change the terms of a will. The validity of that codicil is being questioned in court.

Estate administration can be a complex process when beneficiaries decide to challenge the contents of an end-of-life document. Detroit residents who are dealing with similar issues may want to keep an eye on the litigation over the Coleman estate as the court makes its decision.

Source: Yahoo!, "Gary Coleman's Estate Being Fought Over," Mike Krumboltz, May 7, 2012

Source: The Salt Lake Tribune, "Gary Coleman estate going to trial today in Utah," Nate Carlisle, May 7, 2012

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