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Probate and Estate Litigation Blog

"The Jeffersons" actor's estate roiled by legal battles

The late Sherman Hemsley is best remembered as the actor who played George Jefferson on the classic television sit-coms "All in the Family" and "The Jeffersons," but in more recent times, his name has been at the center of extraordinary legal battles over his legacy. The family disputes over his will were so intense and bizarre that they prevented his body from being buried until four months after his death.

Six weeks before his death from lung cancer, Hemsley signed a will that gave his entire estate to his longtime girlfriend and business partner. However, that will was contested by a man claiming to be Hemsley's long-lost half-brother. The girlfriend, who said she had lived with Hemsley for a decade, said she had never heard him mention a brother. This unusual piece of probate litigation was finally resolved when a judge declared the will valid.

The legal battles surrounding Hemsley's legacy have carried on since then. For the past eight years, two men have been fighting over the rights to collect Hemsley's residuals. Residuals are a kind of royalty paid to actors when their old programs are rerun on television. Some years ago, when the actor was going through hard financial times, he sold the rights to collect his residuals. Two men bought those rights, but they have been arguing for years over their arrangement. Meanwhile, the Screen Actors Guild, which administers residuals for actors and has a policy of not handing out those payments when there is a dispute over ownership, has been holding on to all Hemsley's residuals until the men's dispute is resolved.

Some details of the Hemsley estate dispute may be unique, but many aspects of this fight over a person's legacy will be familiar to many Minnesota families. Family disputes and business battles often rage after a loved one passes away. When disagreements over inheritance come up, it's important that Minnesota residents get help standing up for their own interests and the true wishes of their loved ones who are now gone.

Source: The Hollywood Reporter, "Fight Over Sherman Hemsley's Residuals Still Raging After Eight Years," Eriq Gardner, Sept. 10, 2013

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