Because it makes for interesting writing for this blog, we love to see estate disputes make headlines. Well, we don’t love it exactly, as much as see it as an opportunity for discussing the important of cleaning up one’s estate planning. Because, while few estate plans can be completely insulated from all possible challenges in probate court, it is always worth looking at how to reduce that risk.
The latest estate challenge has to do with Gary Coleman’s estate. Coleman, of course, became famous for his role in the television sitcom Diff’rent Strokes and for his short stature as an adult. Coleman, as is well known, struggled financially as an adult, eventually declaring bankruptcy. Coleman died at the age of 42 in May 2010 from complications arising from a fall down the stairs in his home which caused him to strike his head.
On Monday, trial began over the issue of whether Coleman’s ex-wife Shannon Price or ex-girlfriend and former manager Anna Gray should receive his estate. Coleman and Price apparently married in 2007 and divorced in 2008, though their relationship continued after that. His parents have apparently asserted no claim.
Coleman drafted wills in both 1999 and 2005. According to Gray, Coleman named her a beneficiary and executor of his estate in his 2005 will. But a hand-written amendment names Price as the sole heir and states that all previous wills would be superseded. The outcome of the case reportedly depends on whether Coleman’s continued relationship with his ex-wife after their divorce constituted common-law marriage. If so, she would be entitled to his estate.
Price says that she and Coleman eventually decided that they had made a mistake in getting divorced and that they continued to live together as a married couple until his death, sharing living expenses, filing joint tax returns and doing everything else a married couple does. They apparently avoided remarrying in order to stay out of the public light. Gray, of course, disputes these facts, alleging that Price has financial incentives that throw her account into question.
In our next post, we’ll continue will this topic.
Source: ABC News, “2 Women Battle Over Gary Coleman Estate,” May 7, 2012