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Estate Litigation on the Rise as Families Drift Apart?

Some attorneys and judges believe that as the Baby Boom generation ages
there will be an increase in the number of probate challenges to wills. A recent case
in South Carolina is an extreme example of this.

When Charles Deal, Sr., passed away his only surviving family members were a stepdaughter and a middle-aged, disabled son. Deal's wife had pre-deceased him approximately three years earlier. Deal attempted to care for his son, but found that he was unable to do so. Recently, WLTX 19 covered the entire story in an article titled "Family Sues Waitress Who Inherited Estate." The title should give you a clue as to what happened. Deal frequented a local Cracker Barrel restaurant and befriended a waitress there. Unfortunately, Deal was hospitalized and the next day an attorney showed up to draft a new will for Deal, leaving everything to the waitress.

Deal's family is attempting to challenge the will in probate court. They claim the waitress exerted undue influence over Deal to get him to change his will to her benefit. Undue influence is extremely difficult to prove in court. This allegation requires proof that someone used a position of authority or trust to influence an ill person to their benefit. As the person who made the will is unable to testify, it is difficult to know what he or she was thinking at the time the will was made.

What this case illustrates is that, as families grow apart, it becomes easier for someone else to step in to fill the void. In some cases, a person may want to leave their estate to the person to whom they have grown closer. In other cases, they may have been vulnerable and may have made such arrangements under undue influence. Whether the number of these cases will continue to rise with the aging of the Baby Boomers remains to be seen. We can only speculate that it will increase. On the other hand, we can say most of the time these cases can be avoided with proper estate planning done in advance.

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