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Lack of capacity comes up in contest of actor's will

A recent dispute about a will, which has made some national headlines, has finally been resolved, but it just goes to show how important every little detail of an estate plan can be.

Many of our Michigan readers probably remember the television show "The Jeffersons." It was quite a popular show several years ago, with the star of the show, Sherman Hemsley, playing the part of George Jefferson. Hemsley died in July of this year from lung cancer. However, a judge has only recently resolved a will contest that will now finally allow the former actor to be buried.

The problem arose when it was learned that Hemsley's will dictated that the entirety of his estate distribution should go to one person -- his former manager, who was also named as the executor of his estate. However, a purported half-brother of Hemsley contested the will, specifically dealing with the details of the proposed burial. The half-brother was found to be a 99.99 percent DNA match with Hemsley -- basically a conclusive result that they were indeed brothers. What was interesting in the case, however, was that the half-brother's attorney seemed to imply that Hemsley may have had a lack of capacity to make a valid will, which could have led the court to invalidate the document as it was written.

The court, however, sided with Hemsley's former manager, coming to a ruling that the will was indeed valid.

When contesting a will, one avenue can be to question the testator's -- the person making the will -- capacity to understand the proceedings and procedures of the actual estate planning process. Another avenue would be to assert that someone exercised undue influence over the will maker, leading them to leave things in such a way that the person wielding the influence would benefit.

Fortunately, in Hemsley's case, the resolution seems to be agreeable for the parties in respect to the burial proceedings. Both parties agreed they would proceed with a military burial for Hemsley. Now, after a couple of months of litigation, the burial has court approval to go forward.

Source: Fox, "Judge: Will of 'Jeffersons' star Sherman Hemsley is valid, actor can be buried," Nov. 9, 2012

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