Thursday, September 29, 2011

Tony Curtis Estate Dispute: Children Allege Undue Influence, Duress, Fraud

Few disputes have the potential to be as emotionally-charged and contentious as trust and estate disputes, especially those pitting the children from the decedent’s prior marriage against a stepparent. When actor Tony Curtis died in September of last year, following years of poor health, he left behind an estate plan that completely disinherited his five children. In his will dated in May of last year, just months before his death, the actor named each of his five children-including actress Jamie Lee Curtis-and specifically and intentionally disinherited each of them. No explanation was given in the will. The will left the actor’s entire estate to his widow and fifth wife, Jill Vandenberg Curtis, with a small portion of the estate going to the couple’s charity.

Lawsuit Filed Contesting their Father’s Will

The actor’s daughter, Kelly, has filed a lawsuit alleging that their father was the victim of “duress, menace, fraud or undue influence” by his widow, Jill, which resulted in his changing the dispositive provisions of his estate plan just prior to his death. Kelly contends that she and her siblings were completely blindsided by the disinheritance and that their father would never have eliminated them entirely from his estate plan.

Auction of Personal Items Yields Over One Million Dollars

Earlier this month Tony Curtis’ personal effects were sold by his widow in an online auction which yielded over $1 million. Over 500 items were sold, ranging from cars to personal letters. The actor’s children were upset by the auction as they were not offered any personal effects from his estate, not even a personal item to remember their father by. In accordance with the terms of his will, the auction proceeds went to his widow, with a small portion to the couple’s charity. The auction served to only raise the ire of the actor’s children even further, and they were vocal about their displeasure in the media.

Families Feud When Children Disinherited in Favor of Subsequent Spouse

Whenever an estate plan completely disinherits children in favor of a subsequent spouse, a trust and estate dispute is likely to follow. In this case, the disparity in the age of Jill and Tony hasn’t helped matters-Jill is 42 years younger than Tony, and 11 years younger than Tony’s oldest daughter, Kelly.

Regardless of the size of the estate, estate planning involving blended families or children from previous marriages involves additional complexity and concerns. It is important to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney to ensure that your wishes are properly carried out, with minimal exposure to potential litigation. For experienced estate planning assistance in the San Diego area, contact the Casiano Law Firm.