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Murder alleged in will contest

Battles over a family's estate can be bitter. Recent litigation over a will contest in Washtenaw County became especially acrimonious after one man accused his brother of drowning their wealthy mother because she was planning to make changes to her will.

The deceased mother was a healthy, retired teacher from Ann Arbor who lived in Arizona during the winter months. She disinherited her oldest son without his knowledge in 2007 and named the younger brother as her representative.

The younger brother found his mother dead in a hot tub in her Arizona condominium. The older brother claimed the drowning occurred hours before his mother was planning to speak with her attorney about changes to her will and trusts for her $5.2 million estate

The probate judge ruled against the older brother last month. She concluded that two pathologists issued seriously flawed reports of possible criminal behavior. The judge ruled that the conclusions were based on the unsupported notion that the mother intended to make major changes to the distribution of her multi-million dollar estate that would disadvantage the younger brother.

The judge concluded that the older brother alleged nothing more than unexpected timing and the fact that the mother did not like the younger brother's wife. The judge cited thousands of pages of discovery and deposition hours and over 1,400 pleadings and said that the record was filled with exaggerations by the older brother's attorney. The older brother intends to appeal this ruling.

Reasonable estate planning can help avoid many family disputes and probate litigation. Lawyers can assist with this planning and help relatives discuss these matters.

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