Sunday, November 7, 2010

Probate Battle Involving Heirs Of Book Author And Undue Influence Allegations Settles After Two Years And On Eve Of Trial

A notable probate battle in Vermont has settled just before trial was to start after a 2½-year-old fight among the heirs of children's book author and illustrator Tasha Tudor. The estate was worth $2 million. Ms. Tudor, 92, died in 2008 of complications from a series of strokes. The settlement agreement was confidential and not filed with the court.
The fight was over the legitimacy of the will and the key issue was whether Ms. Tudor was unduly influenced when she rewrote it to give nearly everything to her oldest son.
Although this case is not in California, it highlights trends we see in cases here in California. First, given the cost of probate litigation and the risks involved, most cases settle before trial. With a $2 million estate, a significant amount of the estate can be consumed in legal fees over a two-year period. It is important to analyze legal expenses and costs as part of the business side of evaluating whether it makes economic sense to proceed to trial.

Second, there is an increase in probate litigation given the economic and housing crisis with some heirs not willing to settle for less and with real estate prices being depressed. Third, when wills or trusts are changed to leave out other children -- it increases the likelihood of probate litigation unless the changes are well documented and planned.

Ms. Tudor, who quit school after the eighth grade, won a worldwide following with her whimsical watercolors and drawings in "Pumpkin Moonshine," ''Corgiville Fair," and "Little Women," among nearly 100 children's books she illustrated or wrote. Ms. Tudor celebrated old-fashioned family life at home, becoming known for her anachronistic lifestyle — often going barefoot, wearing vintage dresses or making linen for her own clothing and living in a replica of an 18th-century New England farmhouse built by her sons, in Marlboro, Vt.

Her 2001 will requested that her cremated remains be buried with her beloved predeceased Corgis and the ashes of her pet rooster. It left her copyrights and most of her assets to sons Seth Tudor and Thomas Tudor and Seth's son, Winslow Tudor, giving only $1,000 each to daughters Bethany Tudor and Efner Tudor Holmes.

But an amended 2002 version cut out Thomas, save for an antique highboy, because of his "estrangement" from his mother. Thomas contended his brother wielded undue influence over their mother and that there are suspicious circumstances surrounding the changes in the will.

Posted by Henry (Hank) J. Moravec, III, a partner at Moravec, Varga and Mooney, A Partnership.
For a free 30 minute consultation (telephonic or in person), you can e-mail Hank Moravec at hm@moravecslaw.com or call him at (626) 793-3210.

He focuses his practice on Probate Litigation, Estate Planning, Trust and Probate Administration, Beneficiary and Trustee Representation, Tax Law, and Nonprofit Law. He represents clients throughout Southern California and his offices are conveniently located for clients in the Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino Counties.

With respect to probate, Hank Moravec has over 20 years' experience as a probate and probate litigation attorney practicing in Los Angeles and is available should you need legal advice regarding your own or a family member's situation.

The firm website is http://www.moravecslaw.com/.
The Los Angeles area office is located at 2233 Huntington Drive, Suite 17, San Marino, California 91108. There is ample free parking adjacent to the firm's office.