Five-time Tony award-winning Broadway actress Julie Harris passed away in August, leaving behind an estate estimated at $10 million. Ms. Harris suffered two strokes prior to her passing and was seldom seen outside her home in the last years of her life. Ms. Harris also left behind quite a controversy, one leaving many people crying “undue influence.”
Late in her life, Julie Harris was befriended by Francesca Rubino, a minor soap opera actress. Former employees and friends assert Rubino worked her way into Harris’ life and financial affairs, while keeping Harris away from her son, Peter Gurian.
Rubino took out an order of protection against Peter three years before Harris’ death; as a result, Peter had no contact with Harris in the final three years of her life. The separation was particularly odd because Peter lived in a home built right next to his mother’s. A great deal of the controversy surrounding the Estate centers on a codicil that states Peter would receive nothing if he were to harass Ms. Harris or any of her friends. It is Peter’s contention that his mother lacked testamentary capacity and that the codicil was a result of Rubino’s undue influence..
Ms. Harris named Rubino co-executor of her estate. Although Harris left the bulk of her estate to Peter, Rubino stands to gain up to $200,000 in commissions, a $50,000 inheritance, and the ten items of tangible personal property of her choosing. Rubino claims all accusations directed toward her come from disgruntled former employees.
The fallout from the accusations is still unfolding. Although Ms. Harris’ estate is playing out in a very public forum, and is probably more dramatic than what occurs upon most deaths, strife among survivors is relatively common. Having the support of a firm experienced in estate administration can make all the difference.
Contributed by MH Phoenix Estate Planning Attorney Andrea L Claus.
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