J. Kelly Kennedy, Attorney/CPA, PLLC

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Will solves legal battle over actor's remains

Many Florida readers are aware of the legal complications that can result if a person does not properly document his or her wishes in a will. Complications can also arise if the will is prepared when the decedent is ill or incapacitated. This scenario played out recently when the remains of Sherman Hemsley, who played George Jefferson on the 1970s sitcom The Jeffersons, were held in limbo due to a legal battle.

Hemsley's remains were refrigerated for almost four months after his death from lung cancer, due to a legal challenge from a man who claimed to be his half brother. In his will, Hemsley left his entire estate to his business manager and friend, whom he considered as his only family.

According to the half brother, he had the right to make burial arrangements. The business manager, on the other hand, asserted that the deceased never mentioned a brother.

A DNA test proved that the half brother's claim was correct. But the judge, after hearing the evidence, ruled that the will was valid. According to the lawyer who prepared the will, Hemsley was competent when he signed it. A nurse also testified that Hemsley was mentally alert. Since the will was valid, the business manager finally got the right to make burial arrangements.

Wills are critical estate planning documents. They allow a person to divide property according to his or her wishes and may state requests regarding the burial arrangements. However, it is important that a will is prepared when the person is considered mentally sharp and healthy to avoid a will contest based on a claim of incapacitation. Advice of a legal professional is essential in the preparation and execution of a valid will.

Source: Forbes, "Court Ruling Finally Allows Body of Late Jefferson Star To "Move On Up"," Danielle and Andy Mayoras, Nov. 12, 2012

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