Probate lawyers are keeping busy with Marlon Brando's Estate. Among numerous other cases, including a sexual harassment claim, battles over the use of his name for a chair, a former maid-turned-"major domo" who sued his Estate twice over promises he allegedly made, the most recent lawsuit was brought by his son's ex-wife. Specifically, Deborah Brando (the ex-wife of Marlon's late son Christian Brando, who received the inheritance rights through a settlement with Christian based on a domestic violence allegation) keeps claiming that Marlon's signature to a will document was forged.
The circumstances surrounding it sure were fishy -- Marlon supposedly signed it less than two weeks before he died on July 1, 2004, after he had been suffering from dementia, diabetes, and a host of other ailments. These apparently including paranoia -- he is said to have wanted his room locked when he died so no one would steal the buttons off his shirt! Despite these conditions, and the fact he never left his bedroom, his signature appeared on a codicil (lawyer-speak for amendment) to his will.
This codicil to Marlon Brando's will replaced his long-time will executors with two new ones. Deborah Brando claims this codicil was a forgery and the new two estate administrators committed fraud to cover it up and prevent her from suing earlier.
Twice before, her lawyers filed the lawsuit making these claims. Twice before, she lost because the attorneys didn't plead the claims with enough specificity to satisfy the necessary legal requirements. But the third time was the charm; the Judge allowed the claim of will forgery to proceed. Read about it in this article from On Point News.com. Now it's up to Deborah Brando and her probate attorneys to provide enough evidence to win. Given the difficulties even filing a proper claim the first two times around, you have to wonder if they'll be able to pull it off.
Although I don't know enough to pass judgment on Deborah Brando's lawyers, I have to question if they have the expertise or experience to handle this case. They should have been able to submit the case properly the first time around and not wait until the third try. Had they failed this time, they likely would have lost for good -- three strikes and you're out! Experienced will contest attorneys usually know how to properly file these types of claims.
Deathbed will changes by someone with dementia are always questionable, especially in this case where it appears that the will was not properly notarized (at least, according to Deborah Brando's lawsuit). Wills don't have to be notarized to be valid in most states, but most good estate planning attorneys do notarize them just to be safe. Wills and codicils do have to be properly witnessed in most cases, and there is a big question whether this codicil was properly witnessed. This is important, because all states require independent people to witness the signing of a will or codicil (with certain exceptions in some states) to protect against forgery, among other reasons.
How will this saga play out? Stay tuned. Don't be surprised if they settle and keep this from a public and expensive trial. That's often what happens.
Posted by: Author and probate attorney Andrew W. Mayoras, co-author of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! and co-founder and shareholder of The Center for Probate Litigation and The Center for Elder Law in metro-Detroit, Michigan, which concentrate in probate litigation, estate planning, and elder law. You can email him at awmayoras @ brmmlaw.com.Follow us on Google+