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Probate and Estate Litigation Blog

Actor's burial on hold amidst probate dispute

In the theme song to the classic television show, the Jefferson family was "moving on up." Unfortunately, Twin Cities readers may be dismayed to learn that the body of Sherman Hemsley, who played the role of family patriarch George Jefferson, is moving nowhere in the midst of an unusual probate dispute.

More than three months after his death, the actor's body has yet to be buried thanks to a lawsuit challenging the validity of his will. The actor's will, signed only a month before his death, names his former manager and live-in friend as the sole beneficiary of his estate.

The former manager's claim to the estate ran into an unexpected roadblock with the filing of a civil lawsuit challenging the validity of the actor's will. Although the actor had professed to be an only child in media interviews, a man claiming to be his brother stepped forward to assert an interest in the estate. A probate court judge ordered the self-proclaimed brother to undergo DNA testing.

A third claim to inheritance rights elevated the case from unusual to bizarre. A Methodist minister says that he is the former actor's cousin and that his mother was the only person the actor considered a sister. The minister also questions the value of the estate, which has been set forth at $50,000.

It remains to be seen whether either of the men challenging the administration of the actor's estate can set forth a valid claim. Even if the man claiming to be the actor's brother can prove his relationship, he will still need to make a case for invalidating the will on grounds such as coercion or undue influence. If either challenger is perpetuating fraud upon the court, their efforts to claim a share of the actor's inheritance may backfire with financial consequences. In the meantime, a much loved television personality waits to take his final bow.

Source: Fox News, "Sherman Hemsley still not buried 3 months after death; bizarre legal dispute continues," Holly McKay, Oct. 29, 2012

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