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Coffee baron's children prevail over widow in bitter will contest

An attorney in a will contest that played out with vigor and venom in one state's court system noted with vast understatement that a unanimous court ruling in favor of his clients on appeal was "a pretty big deal."

Indeed, it was a very big deal.

The acrimonious will dispute that dragged out through successive layers of Alabama's judiciary is also worthy of comment in this blog and other sources that comment on estate administration matters, for myriad reasons.

First, similar disputes are readily capable of repetition -- and, indeed, do occur -- in states across the country, including in Texas.

And second, the case pitting a business baron's widow against the children of his previous wife is instructive for what it teaches about the necessity of drafting and securing airtight documents in estate-related matters.

Coffee magnate Leroy Hill divorced his first wife, with whom he had four children, in 1984. He subsequently remarried. When he died in 2009, his second wife produced a will that bequeathed Hill's estate and business solely to her. The estate included a 3,500-acre family farm.

Hill's children sued, arguing that the will was invalid, given the execution of an earlier document pursuant to which Hill had agreed to leave everything he owned to the four children.

That document was never produced at court, with testimony provided that it had disappeared. The children's attorneys argued that either Hill or his second wife had destroyed the document.

A jury ruled last year in favor of the children, and Alabama's Supreme Court ruled against the second wife on appeal just last month.

If there is a central lesson to be learned from the dispute, it must certainly be that estate documents need to be clearly and accurately drafted and executed. Moreover, they need to be written with a thorough understanding of other existing documents that might conflict in their details and intent and the testimony of other parties that might subsequently challenge them on material points.

A proven estate administration attorney will well ensure that such details are fully addressed and attended to.

Source: Al.com, "Supreme Court affirms ruling in family feud, clears way for children's inheritance of coffee empire," Brendan Kirby, Oct. 17, 2014

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