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Will contest continues over $3 million collectibles estate

Collectors in the Twin Cities may take interest in a family dispute over the estate of a Midwestern man who founded a collectibles business with an estimated value approaching $3 million. The will contest centers on claims by the owner's sons that his wife may have been moved by undue influence to change her will during an emotionally vulnerable time.

Prior to the owner's death, his wife's will left 60 percent of the business to the owner's sons. Three months after the owner's death, his wife changed her will to leave 75 percent of the business to her half-sister and 25 percent to a long-time employee.

The sons contend that their father was recovering from brain surgery and was mentally incompetent at the time that lawyers explained to him that his wife could change her will after his death. The sons say that the owner's wife suffered from depression and abused drugs and alcohol, which strained relationships between her and the sons during the late years of the owner's life. They claim that the wife's half-sister came into her life only after the owner's health began to take a turn for the worse.

The sons depict a scenario in which the half-sister took advantage of the wife's vulnerable state to exercise undue influence over her decisions regarding the estate.

The stakes are high in this protracted will conflict, as the estate includes a business valued at $1 million that nets over half a million dollars in profits annually. The estate also includes around $700,000 in cash. The assets of the business include a variety of rare coin collections and a host of historical memorabilia, such as items purportedly owned by Abraham Lincoln, early autographs of Muhammad Ali and one of Babe Ruth's baseball bats.

The estate administrator describes the dispute as one of the most hotly contested acts of probate litigation he has seen in more than 20 years of probate practice. Both sides must rely on the skill of their legal teams to prevail in a conflict that is likely to turn on evidence of the intent and mental competence of the testators.

Source: Journal Sentinel, "Battle of Wills: Family clashes over $3 million Derzon estate," Cary Spivak, July 14, 2012

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