If You Suspect That a Will Is Forged, Don’t Wait to Voice Your Suspicions
Some of the most famous inheritance disputes from the tabloid press and from works of fiction involve the estate of a wealthy man who had been married more than once, and the conflict is between the wife to whom he was married at the end of his life and her stepchildren, the decedent’s children from former marriages. According to Florida law, if a man in this situation dies without a will, his wife inherits half of the estate, and his children inherit the other half. If you do not want your estate divided in this way, it is essential to write a will and specify how you want your assets distributed. Even when there is a will, family members sometimes disagree about whether a will is authentic. A Tampa estate planning lawyer will help you draft and keep track of your will such that there can be no doubt that it is the authoritative version.
Challenging a Will During Probate
Part of the probate process involves publicly announcing that the estate is open for probate, usually by publishing notices in the local newspaper of the county where the deceased person last resided. These announcements notify people that they can come forward to make a claim from the estate if the deceased person had outstanding debts to them or if they believe that they are listed, or should be listed, as heirs in the will. In some cases, though, people might challenge the authenticity of the will, the appointment of the personal representative, or the jurisdiction of the court conducting probate (usually in cases where the decedent divided his or her time between two states and there are questions about which one was the person’s domicile). These are the most common reasons for challenging a will:
- You believe that the will is a forgery
- You believe that the deceased person only signed the will because of fraud or undue influence (he or she was tricked or pressured into signing it)
- There are multiple versions of the will, and you believe that the one being administered is not the right one
The Tiger King Antagonist and the Inheritance Dispute
This spring, while Floridians were under stay-at-home orders, the Netflix series Tiger King took many people’s minds off the COVID-19 pandemic. One of its storylines surrounds the death of Don Lewis, who owned a big cat sanctuary with his wife Carole Baskin. Lewis disappeared in 1997 and was declared dead in 2002, although his body has never been found. In 2002, Baskin submitted his will for probate; the will bequeathed Lewis’ entire estate, which was valued at $10 million, to Baskin, leaving nothing to his children from his first marriage or his siblings. In 2020, the renewed interest in Lewis’ disappearance generated by the series prompted Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister to have two experts examine the will. The experts determined that Lewis’ signature on the will was forged, but since the estate has already settled and the statute of limitations has already passed, Lewis’ relatives cannot reopen the estate and challenge the will in probate.
Contact an Experienced Estate Planning Attorney
An estate lawyer can help you prevent disputes over your estate from arising during probate. Contact Tampa wills attorney David Toback for help today.