Sherman Hemsley, the actor that played George Jefferson in the TV sitcom “The Jeffersons,” passed away from lung cancer on July 24th. Unfortunately, nearly four months later, Hemsley still has not been buried. His body is being kept in refrigerated storage at an El Paso funeral home while disputes over his burial have been heard out in court.
Hemsley created a Will which named his friend and agent Flora Enchinton Bernal as the executor of his estate, giving her the right to handle his affairs, including his burial. However, Richard Thornton recently came forward with the claim that he was Hemsley’s half-brother and asked the courts to give him the right of burial and a claim on the estate. Thornton’s DNA was tested and showed that there was a 99.99% probability that he and Hemsley were half-brothers.
Over the course of the last several months, these two individuals have been fighting over the rights of the estate. To determine who has the rights, the Will needed to be proved as valid to support Bernal’s claims, or as invalid to support the claims of Thornton. Thornton’s daughter says that her father is not pursuing the case for the money. In fact, Hemsley’s estate is only worth around $50,000.
Multiple witnesses were called forth and they all testified that Hemsley was competent and of sound mind around the time the will was created and even during its creation. The attorney he used stated that Hemsley “said he wanted all of his possessions, whatever they were, to pass to Ms. Bernal. At no point did I ever suspect he lacked capacity, based on my 50 years experience as a lawyer.”
The judge has ruled that the will is valid and has given Bernal the right to proceed with funeral arrangements. However, Thornton states that he will file an appeal and continue to fight to have his half-brother buried in their home town. With another court battle looming ahead, it could be some time before Hemsley is finally laid to rest.
Situations such as these are precisely why we recommend our clients create a living trust. We stress the fact that a will does not avoid probate since the very purpose of probate proceedings is to “prove the will.” Even if you have a small estate, like Hemsley, your loved ones may find themselves in a prolonged court battle. Make sure this doesn’t happen by creating an MH Estate Plan.
Schedule your free consultation today by calling 888.222.1328.
About Morris Hall:
At Morris Hall, we have focused our legal practice on estate planning for over 40 years. Along with estate planning, our attorneys help clients and their families with matters of probate, trust administration, wills, power of attorneys, business planning, succession planning, legacy planning, charitable gifting and other important legal aspects. We also have divisions in financial, real estate and accounting to help you incorporate all of your planning together, ensuring that everything works perfectly for your needs and situation. Our Arizona offices are located in Phoenix, Mesa, Scottsdale, Cave Creek, Tucson, Prescott, Flagstaff and Arrowhead. Our New Mexico offices are located in Albuquerque, Las Cruces and Santa Fe. Contact us today at 888.222.1328 to schedule an appointment!
This blog should be used for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader and should not be construed as legal advice. If you need legal advice, please contact an attorney in your community who can assess the specifics of your situation.