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Sherman Hemsley's will upheld despite half-brother's challenge

Even when a person expresses his or wishes clearly in their estate plan, there may be a challenge in probate court after he or she dies. This is most likely to happen when the estate the decedent left behind is substantial, or when the decedent is a prominent person.

In some cases, a will challenge spends years in court, as in the case of actor Sherman Hemsley’s estate. Hemsley, who died in 2012, is probably best known for his portrayal of George Jefferson on the sitcoms “All in the Family” and “The Jeffersons.”

Hemsley never married or had any children. He spent the last 16 years of his life living with his business manager. It appears that toward the end of his life, after he stopped treatment for cancer, Hemsley drafted a will to leave his entire estate to her.

After he died, a man claiming to be Hemsley’s half-brother emerged. The man challenged the will and also blocked the manager’s attempt to give Hemsley a military funeral. A DNA test later proved that the challenger did indeed share a father with the deceased actor.

The gist of the half-brother’s challenge was that Hemsley was not of sound mind when he drafted the will, apparently because of his health and medications he may have received. However, testimony from trial convinced a court of appeals otherwise, and the panel recently ruled in the manager’s favor.

According to the attorney who drafted the will, Hemsley asked him to do so after having the lawyer draft him a power of attorney. The decedent told the attorney he wanted to leave his estate to his manager.

Hemsley gave no sign that he was overwhelmed by pain or that his judgment was affected by painkillers during the process, the lawyer told the court. He appeared to understand what was happening and made his wishes clear.

Just because someone does not have a spouse or children, that is no reason not to have an estate plan. Besides a romantic partner, one can leave their estate to close friends, other relatives or favorite charities.

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