Invalidated Will Ends Two-Year Court Battle over Gary Coleman’s Estate
Coleman died May 28, 2010. After two years of legal battles, Coleman’s ex-wife, Shannon Price, is officially disinherited. Utah Fourth District Court Judge James R. Taylor instead ruled in favor of Anna Gray, Coleman’s former business manager and CEO of his company.
Divorce Complicates Inheritance Issues
The judge’s decision (http://tinyurl.com/8ybaqvv) was based on two important pieces of evidence: Coleman’s will, and whether despite the divorce Price could be considered Coleman’s common law wife.
In his 2005 will, Coleman named Gray as executor and primary beneficiary. Price met Coleman later that same year, and they married in 2007. In 2006, Coleman signed a document giving Price power of attorney for healthcare issues.
During the court proceedings inUtah, Price also produced a 2007 handwritten amendment to Coleman’s will naming Price his heir. However, according toUtahlaw, the couple’s 2008 divorce invalidated these documents.
The divorce would have ended the matter, but Price and Coleman continued to live together until the time of his accident and subsequent death. In her testimony, Price claimed that though she was no longer his wife by marriage, due to their living arrangements, she was his common law wife and was entitled to all the same legal rights. Judge Taylor found otherwise after being presented evidence that Price dated someone else while she and Coleman slept in separate bedrooms without a sexual relationship.
Price could still appeal, leaving Coleman’s estate embroiled in further controversy.
Helping Clients Avoid Estate Disputes
The lengthy arguments over Coleman’s estate should be a wake-up call to advisors to remind clients that changes in marital status can leave their own assets in a similar situation. In the event of any changes in marital status, or even in the case of common law marriage, wills and healthcare power of attorney documents must be kept current to ensure that the client’s wishes are clearly stated.
In an article on the court’s decision, Lawyers.com listed several important questions that advisors should discuss with clients (http://tinyurl.com/7smjoqo):
- Who will inherit my property if I die without a will? How can I ensure my assets are left to my children, partner and other loved ones?
- What legal rights does my partner have if I’m hospitalized or on life support? Who can make healthcare decisions on my behalf?
- Can my partner sign contracts on my behalf? Access my bank accounts and pay my bills if I’m incapacitated?
- If I die, how can I ensure that my partner becomes legal guardian of my child? How can we pick a legal guardian for our children if we both die?
Without answers to these questions, clients are potentially leaving their estates bogged down in a costly and unpleasant legal quagmire which can drag on for years.
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