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Estate litigation: cautionary tales from 2016

Some things in life remain constant.

The sun rises each day. The seasons change.

And families continue to fight over estates.

That latter declaration is the lead in a recent wealth-focused article in a national publication chronicling some of the more prominent family spats that occurred during 2016 in the realm of estate administration.

Although that overview discusses several estate disputes that varied broadly in their details and outcomes, it takes due pains to emphasize a common denominator applicable to each case.

And that is this: Timely and studied input from a proven estate planning and tax attorney could have gone far in each matter toward reducing -- if not outright eliminating -- the family-based acrimony that occurred -- or certainly will occur -- concerning lingering estate-related ambiguities.

The estate of the legendary entertainer Prince is a case in point. As the article notes, the artist's apparent failure to execute a will has led to "numerous people popping out of the woodwork" claiming to be his children and having a legal right to inherit a share of his wealth.

Another interesting case involves the estate of entertainer Frank Sinatra Jr. Although he and his former spouse divorced in 2001, she contended that they subsequently continued to be partners in a common law marriage. She filed for divorce a second time under that theory in 2013 and was granted a sizable financial award by a court. That grant was reversed on appeal after an appellate tribunal's exhaustive review of material facts.

The above-cited overview notes that Sinatra Jr. likely could avoided the entire spat and attendant confusion "by consulting with and listening to his attorney."

Other additional cases from last year are undeniably prominent and instructive, as well. The estate of the hugely successful author Tom Clancy, for example, went through successive rounds of litigation owing to ambiguities concerning the effect of a will codicil that the writer executed shortly before his death.

The fundamental take away from the aforementioned article on estate disputes and resolution is this: Many family contests can be avoided from the outset and altogether by timely and well-considered strategies employed by a planner working together with a seasoned estate planning attorney.


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