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Probate litigation over heiress' estate finally settles

The estate of an American cooper heiress has settled more than two years after her death. The woman died in May 2011 and left behind a $300 million fortune. The woman was not married when she passed and had no children. However, a will contest arose after her family - made up of 20 grandnieces and grandnephews - challenged her will.

The woman died with two wills, executed just weeks apart from one another. In the first will, the woman gave her estate to her family. In the second will, the estate was spilt between a variety of foundations, her accountant, lawyer and nurse. The family challenged the second will by arguing that it was the product of undue influence and that the woman - who lived in a hospital for 20 years - had no idea what she was signing.

The probate litigation has finally reached a tentative settlement. In the settlement, the family will receive around $34.5 million dollars after they pay taxes. Her personal nurse, accountant and lawyer would not receive any money. $10 million will go to an art gallery. The hospital where she lived would get $1 million, and her doctor would get $100,000. The rest of her estate including her mansion and valuable doll collection would be used to fund foundations.

This case shows Michigan residents how complicated probate ligation, and will contests can become. They can include a variety of people who may have a stake in the estate. Without the right estate planning, peoples' families can spend years in probate trying to sort out the mess.

It also reminds people the importance of ensuring that their estate planning documents, including their will, are properly executed. Without following specific requirements, the will may be challenged and people's final wishes may not be respected.

Source: The New York Times, "Tentative Deal in Feud Over Will of an Heiress," Anemona Hartocollis, Sept. 20, 2013

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