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Sacramento Estate Planning Attorney

Sherman Hemsley's body laid to rest after will contest

Blog readers may recall the story of deceased Hollywood sitcom star Sherman Hemsley's estate and the legal challenge from his brother that kept his body above ground for more than three months after his death. Finally, an El Paso, Texas, judge has ruled that Hemsley's will was valid, meaning that Hemsley can finally be buried in accordance with his written wishes.

Hemsley, best known to fans as George Jefferson, died in July at the age of 74. Six weeks before his death, he created a will naming his longtime friend and manager as the sole beneficiary of his estate, valued at roughly $50,000.

After his death, a man came forth, claiming he was Hemsley's brother and that he wanted to contest the validity of the will. The Texas probate court ordered a DNA sample to be taken, and sure enough, the man was in fact Hemsley's half-brother from the same father.

The court, however, also took testimony from Hemsley's attorney, a nurse who treated Hemsley and others; and the court ruled that Hemsley had the mental capacity to execute his will. Because the will was valid, the estranged half-brother had no claim to say that the will should not be carried out as intended by Hemsley.

At issue in the will's validity challenge seemed to have been the fact that Hemsley waited until he was old, relatively sick and near enough to death to create it. The court then was forced to consider the possibility that he lacked the capacity to make his final testament. The result meant that a parade of witnesses had to testify simply to prove that Hemsley's will was accurate and made knowingly, all while his body remained in physical limbo.

It is always a good idea to make your intentions known in the form of a will. However, if there is a moral to this story, it may be that it is best for individuals to not wait until they know they are dying to make a will, in order to avoid a contest later.

Source: Forbes, "Court Ruling Finally Allows Body of Late Jefferson Star To 'Move On Up," Danielle and Andy Mayoras, Nov. 12, 2012

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My Sacramento law practice, Michael A. Sawamura, Attorney at Law, focuses on wills, trusts and estate planning law in addition to business law and corporate defense services. My clients include professionals, government employees, small businesses, blue-collar workers and national corporations.

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