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 & Mooney, A Partnership. For a free 30 minute consultation (telephonic or in person), you can e-mail Hank Moravec at email@example.com or call him at (626) 793-3210 or (818) 769-4221.
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