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Estate administration suit questions man's marriage motive

Relatives of a woman who died in 2009 filed suit in another state in an attempt to prevent her husband from inheriting an estate valued at $450,000. Clark County residents understand that litigation is sometimes necessary in administering complex estates. It's a bit unusual, however, for inheritance issues to include the question of whether a man married the woman for love or money.

According to reports, the sister and stepchildren of a 62-year-old woman accused her husband of forcing the marriage through abusive behavior when she refused to transfer assets to him. The second of two strokes suffered by the woman rendered her nursing home-bound and incapacitated. At that time, a health care power of attorney held by a cousin was activated. Further records show in November of 2008, the woman was taken out of the nursing home by the now 59-year-old man. They were married by a local court commissioner.

The family's fight over the inheritance ultimately led to a state Supreme Court decision on the question of whether a marriage could be voided if one spouse had died. Justices found a county judge could undo the marriage if fraud, coercion or mistake could be proven. Reportedly, a non-jury trial was scheduled to settle the marriage question. If the relatives were successful, they would be heirs to the entire estate because the decedent did not have a valid will. If the judge upheld the marriage, her widower would have received all of the assets as her surviving spouse.

The issues involved in this matter required careful evaluation and effective strategizing on the part of both sides of the dispute. Dealing with inheritance questions and disagreements can't always be avoided, but the chances of extensive problems requiring court intervention can be minimized with planning and clear direction established ahead of time.

The parties to this lawsuit reached a settlement prior to trial. They agreed to divide the estate. The husband will receive liquid assets and cash, while the other relatives will keep her home and land. Further, it is reported the settlement agreement confirms the marriage as valid.

Source: Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, "Widower, late wife’s relatives settle case that tried to void marriage" Bruce Vielmetti, Mar. 10, 2014

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