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For one family, estate litigation plays out like bad movie

Relatives of a flamboyant widow say her last years of life were like a bad movie. She spent much of her time following her husband’s 2000 death in the company of a younger man, to whom she left much of her wealth.

The family is trying to change the end of that movie by contesting the will left much of the 87-year-old matriarch’s money to the “smooth-talking” man. For now, the 66-year-old sits in jail on a civil contempt order until he produces for a court documents showing what happened to the widow’s assets following her 2012 death.

Though this story happened far south of Flemington, in the Tampa, Florida, area, we thought it might be of interest to readers as an unusual example of what can happen when sound estate planning fails to take place and estate litigation follows.

The woman’s late husband was a doctor who founded a hospital in the Tampa suburb.

The man she befriended after her husband’s death has a son who fronts a country music band. The widow apparently became a big fan of the band, allowing them to practice at her home and sometimes touring with the group. She also started writing checks to benefit the band leader’s dad, who was more than two decades her junior.

The widow’s health declined in 2004 with a ministroke; her younger companion took her to the hospital. He says now that “that’s when her kids got mad at me.” He claims her children “wanted to let her die.”

By then, the man had already lived on the widow’s property for two years.

A year later, she created a trust giving him power of attorney and a will that left most of her assets to him. Family members initially went to court, charging that she wasn't mentally competent to make such decisions, but eventually dropped their effort.

After her death, a judge ruled the man could keep the widow's house and surrounding property, but not the 10 other parcels of property she owned. The man transferred titles to the parcels to himself anyway.

Family members say jewelry, china, furniture and more is missing from the estate. He insists that he’s spending the money the way the widow wanted him to spend it.

We'll be interested to how a court resolves this deep dispute. 

Source: Tampa Bay Times, "Man accused in lawsuit of stealing Dade City widow's fortune sent to jail," Lisa Buie, June 26, 2014

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