Michael Jackson’s estate has sued Disney and ABC alleging that they have violated numerous copyrights owned by the estate in the making and airing of the ABC News documentary, The Last Days on Michael Jackson in May. The lawsuit claims that ABC featured the songs “Billie Jean,” “Beat It,” “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough,” and several other Jackson songs during the documentary without permission. It also claims the documentary included music video, footage of the live performances of the “Triumph” tour and other concerts, and footage from the film Michael Jackson’s This Is It.
Probate litigation can include wrongful death claims, breach of contract claims, claims that others have possession of assets that belong to the estate or that others are profiting from the estate’s assets. Litigation can also allege that the estate owes money to creditors or that beneficiaries have been excluded. A Will contest often alleges that the Will is not valid due to lack of proper execution, the lack of the capacity of the Testator, the creator of the Will, or undue influence on the Testator by a person who benefited from that influence. Finally, the petitioner can allege that the Executor is not following the Will or is mismanaging the estate.
Lack of Communication
One of the most common reasons that a Will contest is brought is lack of communication during the Testator’s lifetime. A person has the absolute right at death to leave his or her assets to any person or entity he or she chooses. Of course, this assumes that the Testator has the necessary mental capacity to execute a Will and that he or she is free from undue influence from others, often caregivers or family members. When the Testator leaves assets to persons or top entities other than children or grandchildren, it is not uncommon for the Testator to avoid communicating this intent to family members. This is a mistake. While it is likely that family members will be at a minimum disappointed to learn that they will not be receiving an inheritance or perhaps less of one than they anticipated, it is best that they know of these plans while the Testator is alive. This allows the Testator to clearly communicate the reasons for his or her choices to every person who may believe he or she may be receiving something from the estate. This will hopefully allow these persons to “absorb” the reasons the Testator is taking these actions. Even if the person cannot understand why the Testator is reducing what he or she was expecting to receive, the communication of the intent during lifetime avoids the shock of the person finding that out that he or she will not be receiving what they expect after the death of the Testator.
Real Life Story
Riverside estate planning lawyer, Dennis M. Sandoval, shares this true story. A client desired to leave her entire estate to orphanages. When asked if she had informed her children about her plans, she answered no. She said her “good son” would understand her wishes. She stated she had very little communication with her “bad daughter” for the past twenty years. She was concerned her daughter would challenge her estate plan. Mr. Sandoval encouraged the client to communicate her wishes to her children. She declined, but agreed to write a letter to each child expressing her wishes and honoring her son for being a good son and telling her daughter that she wished that things would have gone differently. She kept the original of these letters with her estate planning documents and provided the estate planning attorney with a copy of letters. She unexpectedly passed a way a few months later. When her son found out what his mother had done, he was furious, threatened to challenge the estate plan, and actually hired an lawyer. When her daughter learned of her mother’s desires, she was delighted that her mother had such a noble desire to help unfortunate children. She also appreciated the sentiments her mother expressed to her in the letter and regretted that they had not communicated more. When the son’s probate lawyer read the letter and discussed the estate plan with Mr. Sandoval, he advised the son against proceeding with any litigation. The client’s estate ended up benefiting the orphans she wanted so much to help.
Proper Estate Planning is the Key
Having an experienced estate planning lawyer assist you with the preparation of your estate plan can greatly reduce the chances of litigation after your death. The estate planning attorneys at Sandoval Legacy Group, a division of Holstrom, Block & Parke, A Professional Law Corporation are available to assist you. Call 951-888-1460 or click here to schedule your appointment.
Have a question? Ask Dennis.