It is a big concern for many people in Lee County, Florida that their aging parents might be taken advantage of financially. Stories abound of people marrying with an eye toward financial gain. Once married, they may exert undue influence over their spouse, even to the point where estate plans are changed and everything is left to them.
This scenario was at the center of probate concerns for one family whose father died in 1983. At the time, it was a huge controversy because the man's wife of just 12 years inherited almost all of his $500 million estate and all but one of his six children were left out of the will completely.
This story was brought back into the spotlight when the woman recently died at the age of 76. She came to the United States as an immigrant when she was 31-years-old. She got a job as a maid for the family of the heir to the Johnson & Johnson estate. The 76-year-old man eventually divorced his wife and married the young woman.
After his death, his children challenged the will in court because they felt that the woman had bullied their father into changing the will. They argued that he had not been in the proper health to stand up to her.
After a long, drawn-out battle, the case was finally settled. The woman was able to keep a large portion of the estate, more than $300 million. Although their portion was significantly less at $40 million total, the children were happy with the settlement.
Even if you do not have a large estate like this family, it is important that you clearly define how you would like your estate divided when you die. Doing so can help your family avoid battles such as this one.
Source: New York Times, "Barbara Piasecka Johnson, Maid Who Married Multimillionaire, Dies at 76," Bruce Weber, April 3, 2013