I previously covered the will contest filed against the Marlon Brando Estate by the ex-wife of Marlon's deceased son, Christopher. At the time, it appeared that the attorneys for Deborah Brando -- on their third try -- filed a sufficient legal challenge so that the probate judge would allow the case to proceed. The judge threw out their first two tries.
Deborah claimed that the Codicil (or will amendment) dated less than two weeks before Brando's death was actually forged, and that the co-executors of the Estate committed fraud to hide the forgery.
But the co-executors filed a motion asking the judge -- again -- to dismiss the challenge. This time, the judge agreed with them. He ruled that the claim was filed too late. The will and codicil were accepted into probate back in August, 2004. Deborah's lawyers had filed her claim (the first time) more than three years later.
The judge also ruled that Deborah lacked legal "standing" to make the challenge in court, because neither she nor her ex-husband were direct beneficiaries of Brando's will. Of course, Marlon's son, Christopher, likely was a beneficiary of Marlon's trust that in turn was a beneficiary of the Estate, so indirectly, they had an interest. But, the law in California was that it was not a sufficient interest. So Deborah's case was thrown out of court.
Deborah Brando appealed to the California Court of Appeals. On July 30th, the three appellate judges quickly disposed of the appeal and agreed with the probate judge that the case was to be closed. You can read the Court of Appeals decision here.
Now Deborah is out of options. As I wrote originally, three strikes in this case certainly means she's out. Her lawyers will not be permitted to change the paperwork and try again.
Interestingly, this case was but one of dozens involving Brando's Estate. Here's a prior article I wrote describing some of the other legal fights that have left his Estate in such a legal mess.
One has to wonder how many of the courtroom battles would have been prevented if his final months hadn't been spent under such suspicious circumstances. Brando had dementia and many other medical ailments, including extreme paranoia. He was bedridden and wasn't able to leave his room, causing many people to allege that he was taken advantage of before he died.
While most people don't have such famous family members, it is very common for those with dementia or Alzheimer's to be targeted by those looking for easy money. Will and trust changes that are obtained through undue influence or due to the mental incompetence of a senior are common. Sometimes it's a caregiver or "special friend"; other times it's a child, niece or nephew. That's why good probate litigation attorneys are needed to help right the wrongs and correct the injustices that happen.
But these cases are never easy. Prevention is always the best cure. Families must watch elderly loved ones with dementia or Alzheimer's disease carefully to make sure they are protected. The consequences of not doing so can be too severe.
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+