Chicago businessman Urooj Khan jumped for joy when he learned he had the winning numbers for a million-dollar lottery drawing last summer. Too bad he never had a chance to enjoy it. He was murdered days before he was going to receive the $425,000 lump-sum, after-tax winnings.
Originally, the 46-year-old's death was ruled natural, due to hardening of the arteries. Later a family member -- unidentified so far -- raised suspicions with the police that led to testing blood and tissue samples. The results came back positive for cyanide. Police reclassified the death as a homicide.
Khan's body was recently exhumed, several months after he was originally buried, so more testing could be done to help police learn more about his cause of death. So far, they haven't named a suspect. However, Khan's brother isn't waiting for the police to do so. He's already spoken out.
According to reports, Khan died the morning after eating a dinner prepared by his wife -- a meal which neither Khan's wife nor father-in-law ate. The police haven't said they consider them to be suspects, although they did interview the widow, Shaban Ansari, for four hours in November.
Ansari and her father strenuously deny the allegations raised by Khan's brother and say they only want the truth to come out.
Ansari and Khan's brother have been battling each other in probate court for months. Khan left behind not only the lottery winnings, but several dry cleaning businesses he owned, as well as real estate and vehicles. His total estate has been estimated at around $1.2 million. Khan died intestate -- without a will.
Khan is also survived by a teenage daughter from a prior marriage. Under Illinois law, Khan's estate would be split equally between his wife and daughter.
But, that's only the case if neither of them caused Khan's death. Illinois, like other states, has a "slayer statute" that prevents anyone from inheriting or otherwise receiving property from someone who died if the person is found to have "intentionally and unjustifiably" caused the death.
This doesn't mean the killer would necessarily have to be found criminally responsible. The probate court can determine that someone caused a death even if the person was never charged with a crime.
For now, the warring sides of the Khan family will wait to see if the latest round of testing helps the police name a suspect. After the criminal process has played out, the probate fight will undoubtedly take a new direction.
So far, it's been focused on Khan's siblings -- including his brother and a sister -- alleging that Ansari may try to deprive Khan's daughter of her fair share. They accused the widow of trying to cash the lottery check, which has now been frozen by court order. Khan's sister is trying to become the guardian for Khan's daughter, who has been living with Ansari, her step-mother. Both siblings say they are fighting only to protect Khan's daughter and are not seeking anything for themselves.
To this point, the Judge has allowed Ansari to be in charge of the estate, but her actions are being closely monitored through the probate court process. That could easily change in the months to come as the case -- and the criminal investigation -- continues.
Putting aside the slayer statute for a moment, this story shows a good example of what can happen when someone dies without a will. Would Khan have wanted his family fighting in probate court over control of his estate? Would he have wanted his 17-year old daughter to inherit about $600,000 when she turns 18? Would he have wanted a fight over who would be guardian to his daughter?
Likely not! But that's what can happen when people die without wills. They don't get to decide who inherits their assets, when or how -- or who should be guardian for their children or executors of their estates. The lack of proper estate planning often provokes a family fight.
It's so easy to do the proper planning, starting with a will and, for most people, a living trust as well. Stories like this serve as reminders why procrastinating with your estate planning is never a good idea.
By Danielle and Andy Mayoras, co-authors of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights!, husband-and-wife legacy expert attorneys, and hosts of the national television special, Trial & Heirs: Protect Your Family Fortune! For the latest celebrity and high-profile cases, with tips to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your clients, click here to subscribe to The Trial & Heirs Update. You can “like” them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter and Google+.