In Estate Battle, Family Contests 11th-Hour Deathbead Marriage

An estate battle currently playing out in Pennsylvania recently caught our attention. Although we focus our energies on Texas-area clients, there are some aspects to this story that are worth discussing, because they are not uncommon to estate disputes.

The story starts with a  61-year-old former steamfitter who died a very wealthy man after he settled several lawsuits with former employers, whom he accused of exposing him to asbestos. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that although his exact net worth isn’t clear, public records indicate his estate (that is, the sum of the assets he had at the time of his death) was worth somewhere between $650,000 and $1.4 million.

Hours before the man died, he formally wed a woman who had been caring for him for some time. As his wife, she was automatically entitled to a portion of his estate, regardless of what his will said. States have these spousal provisions because they do not want spouses to be left destitute after their husband or wife dies.

The man’s family believes that the wife had money as an ulterior motive and has sought to have her excluded from the estate. The wife, however, points out that she and the deceased man had a long, informal relationship (they had a child together out of wedlock in 1989) and that she had been his caretaker for years.

What interested us here is how a rather complicated personal situation resulted in a tangled-up estate. This is not at all uncommon. People’s lives are not always orderly; that is just how life is. As estate planning attorneys, we help our clients prepare for the inevitable and are available to help if clients who didn’t work with us in the first place need assistance sorting things out.

To learn more about Ford + Bergner LLP, please feel free to contact us.