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Lake Forest Illinois Trusts and Estates Law Blog

Mary Cunningham Agee wading through turbulent probate litigation

Business women advocates in Illinois and throughout the nation may relate to the many challenges Mary Cunningham Agee overcame when she was climbing to the top of the corporate ladder in the 1980s. Nowadays, many people know Agee as "The Tomato Lady" for her work out West growing heirlooms and herbs. That title comes after 35 years of marriage to Bendix Corp. CEO William M. Agee and the scandalous stories that threatened her reputation at every turn. Such tales have recently resurfaced amid acrimonious probate litigation between the widow and her stepchildren.

As one of the first women in corporate America to hold an executive position in a Fortune 100 company, Agee was pelted with rumors and accusations saying she must have seduced the man who would later become her husband. She rose above what she calls extremely unfair bias and false allegations often launched against women in a business world that catered to men. However, it seems her husband drafted a new will before he died, resulting in one of his adult children from a first marriage seeking the court's intervention to determine what should happen to her father's assets.

Estate planning and administration: Executor seeks missing art

A relative of former First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis has taken action in court against an art gallery owner in another state. Those in Illinois who are currently trying to resolve estate planning and administration problems that involve disputes over inheritance or assets may want to follow this case. The plaintiff is the nephew of Onassis's cousin who claims that upon his aunt's deathbed, she reminded him of the missing family heirloom, namely, a portrait of Onassis commissioned by her father when she was age 19.

When the portrait was spotted at an art gallery by the nephew's wife, she approached the gallery owner to inquire about it. He reportedly told her he had purchased it from an antiques dealer who had since died; however, he refused to name the dealer. The nephew's wife turned to a 1998 magazine article contained in the decedent's records to confirm that the artwork she saw at the gallery appeared to be the missing family heirloom, which she and her husband say was stolen in a burglary that was never reported to authorities.

Anyone can make one of these estate planning mistakes

When it comes to estate planning, there are things you should and shouldn't be doing. Unfortunately, many people don't understand where to draw the line.

The last thing you want to do is make an estate planning mistake, as this can impact you and your family now and in the future.

Are stepmothers more likely to enter probate litigation?

When a loved one dies, those left behind often encounter legal problems regarding estate administration and probate issues. Many disputes that lead to probate litigation involve stepmothers and their stepchildren. While factual assertions cannot be based on stereotypes or generalizations, there does appear to be data to suggest higher rates of probate litigation in stepfamily situations.

Many such problems include issues of trust, beneficiary rights or inheritance. Women tend to live longer than men in the United States. This may be one way to explain why more stepmothers than stepfathers collide with their stepchildren when it comes time to administer their loved ones' estates.

Estate planning: The often ignored but oh-so important process

Why do many people in Illinois and elsewhere shy away from discussions regarding their own mortality? No one can be certain; however, the fact that data shows many people never execute estate plans before they die emphasizes the fact that it's true. The estate planning process can be simple or complex. There's no shortage on stories where someone dies without leaving a final will and testament, wreaking havoc upon all heirs and beneficiaries.

Thus, a final will and testament is the most common estate planning instrument. It's also the most frequently used document to specifically state personal desires regarding how assets should be divided upon one's death. An estate owner needn't be wealthy in order to benefit from the estate planning process.

What can you do to stop conflict between your heirs?

As a parent, you're well aware that your kids are going to fight. Conflict is inevitable. It's how you plan for it and respond to it that counts.

That didn't stop when your kids turned 18. It didn't apply only to young kids fighting over video games or toys. The reality is that many full-grown children have one more major fight looming. They're going to argue over the inheritance.

Widow Hopper in probate litigation with JPMorgan Chase & Co.

Illinois residents who keep up with major global business news are likely familiar with now-deceased Max Hopper, who was an American IT manager as well as a top executive for several other companies, including American Airlines and Bank of America. Following his death, his widow, Jo Hopper, became entangled in a contentious probate litigation situation with the nation's largest bank, JPMorgan Chase & Co. She publicly stated that she believes the bank was trying to rob her of assets to which she was entitled.

Hopper's widow also accused JPMorgan Chase & Co. of trying to drive a wedge between her and her stepchildren. She and her husband reportedly had joint ownership in approximately $19 million in assets. Shockingly, the senior Hopper had passed away unexpectedly and left no final will and testament. In fact, he had drafted at least four wills at various times but never signed a single one.

Probate litigation continues regarding Charles Manson estate

Although it is not all that uncommon for complications and problems to arise when Illinois families address estate administration matters following their loved ones' deaths, it is likely safe to assume that most disagreements pertain to financial assets or other items of worth, not the actual bodies of the decedents. However, that just so happens to be a central focus of current probate litigation that has erupted following the death of convicted mass murderer, Charles Manson. It seems that just as his life was full of bizarre twists and turns, so too, is the legal battle taking place after his death.

The problem is that several people have filed paperwork to claim Manson's remains as well as his personal property. Manson's grandson has come forward to say he is entitled to his grandfather's remains. He has hired an attorney to act on his behalf.

What does decanting a trust mean?

Often, establishing a trust is not the end of your estate planning concerns, especially if your wishes for your estate change after the fact. While it is not always possible to achieve exactly what you hope, depending on the nature of your existing trust and the terms you set in place when you established it, the law may provide ways that you can amend your trust and still enjoy many of its protections and benefits.

Commonly, these issues arise when a trust creator remarries, divorces or otherwise grows or decreases his or her group of desired beneficiaries. In order to avoid frustrating conflicts after you pass away, it is wise to address this issue directly as soon as you can. You certainly don't want your estate to serve as an unnecessary source of conflict to those you love.

Helping heirs and beneficiaries avoid disputes over money

Many aging parents in Illinois rely on at least one of their adult children to act as primary or assistant care providers as they live out their golden years. Some wind up leaving their homes and taking up residence in nursing homes or other assisted living facilities. Sadly, it's not uncommon for heirs and beneficiaries to begin to fight over money they believe is meant for their inheritance but is instead being used to pay for living arrangements and care.

A woman who had been the primary caretaker of her parents tells how her siblings became upset when her parents went to live in a nursing home and their needs were provided for from their private funds, which the siblings assumed had initially been set aside for their inheritances. The woman says she tried to stress to her siblings that what was most important was that their parents had everything they needed and were financially able to provide for their own care. The siblings, however, were focused on the money no longer available to them rather than the beneficial way in which the money was being used.

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