It's been a relatively-quiet couple of months in the Gary Coleman estate, after the two weeks of craziness that followed his sudden death on May 28, 2010. It looks like that's about to change.
A short recap: Coleman's ex-wife, Shannon Price, used her medical power of attorney document to terminate Coleman's life support, which upset his estranged parents. They then filed to open his estate, saying he died without a will, and stopped Price from planning his funeral.
But there was a will. Coleman's ex-manager, Dion Mial, came forward with a 1999 will naming him as the executor in charge. But wait!
There was a later will, in 2005, naming Coleman's female friend and former companion, Anna Gray as the one to be in charge of his estate. So she's in control, right? No!
Price says she has a handwritten amendment to the will, from 2007, naming her as the executor and the beneficiary. She claims Coleman actually wanted her to inherit everything, even though they were divorced in 2008. How can that be?
Price says they lived together as common-law husband and wife, even after the divorce, so she still should inherit and control his estate. Here's our article discussing what all this means and whether Price has a shot at prevailing.
The probate judge decided to appoint a neutral administrator to handle things while all these claims could be sorted out. The Special Administrator, Robert Jeffs, recently filed a petition asking for permission to let him sell Coleman's house. Jeffs says it needs some work, a lot of cleaning, and unfortunately, it is upside down. In other words, Coleman owed more on the mortgage ($325,000+) when he died than the property is worth. Jeffs says that the estate doesn't have money to pay for the house's expenses, so it must be sold, even at a loss.
Price, of course, isn't too pleased about this and wants to fight the sale. She says that Coleman wanted her to have the house. It still contains her belongings, she says, and she has been barred from getting them back.
So Price is pushing forward with her claim of common-law marriage. But, Coleman's parents are pushing back. Their attorney recently filed a response with the court opposing Price's request to be recognized as Coleman's widow. Their representative said that they expect Anna Gray will join them in the fight against Price.
Poor Shannon Price. She says that she's the only one involved with intentions that are pure. Price's spokesperson says that Price realizes there is no money in the estate, and she only wants to be able to receive his ashes and make sure his bills are paid.
Do you believe that all this fighting is going on and no money is involved? While there may not be cash now, whomever wins this battle will be able to control the former Diff'rent Strokes star's image and be able to profit from it ... not to mention his pension from his child actor days.
So, yes, we do expect the battle to continue. In fact, it's just getting started!
And while the estate is unusual in terms of some of what the contestants are fighting over, battles over the final wishes of people that aren't properly documented are far too common in our country. They happen to the wealthy and not-so-wealthy alike, especially when handwritten documents and questionable wills surface.
That's why stories like this provide valuable lessons to everyone to see a good estate planning attorney and help prevent fights like this from happening in your family, before it's too late.
Posted by: Andrew W. Mayoras and Danielle B. Mayoras, co-authors of Trial and Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! and co-founders 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. Andrew and Danielle are husband and wife attorneys, professional speakers and consultants across the country. Follow us on Facebook and Google+.