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Panama court throws out will that left millions to poor children

It surely must rank as one of the most devastating will contest cases any country has ever seen ...  especially for the hundreds of thousands of impoverished children in Panama.   Wilson-Lucom

Wilson Lucom (pictured, right) was a wealthy tycoon from Florida whose third wife, Hilda, was from one of Panama's wealthiest families.  Hilda had previously been married to a powerful politician in the country and has five adult children from that marriage.  Wilson and Hilda lived in Panama when he died in 2006.

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Estate of Bobby Fischer facing a possible Checkmate

The New York Times recently featured a story about the person universally recognized as one of the greatest chess players of all time.  Robert James "Bobby" Fischer died from kidney disease on January 17, 2008 at the age of 64.  He was buried in Iceland, where he lived for the last few years of his life.Bobby-fischer

He was a King in the game of chess and his life was anything but conventional.  So why should Fischer's estate be simple?

Fischer scorned his 1972 world chess championship, renouncing it in 1975.  He retreated from the world and turned his back on fame and fortune. 

When he finally emerged for a rematch in 1992, he became a national fugitive.  Why?  Fischer ignored government warnings not to play the match in Yugoslavia, because of a trade embargo.  This made him a criminal.  He found refuge in Iceland, which granted him citizenship and prevented deportation.

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Judge rules that Feng Shui Master forged Nina Wang's will

The Nina Wang case captivated Asia in much the same way the Brooke Astor case made headlines in New York last year.  Only, instead of questions surrounding whether a multi-millionaire's will was invalid, the Nina Wang case involved whether Tony Chan Chun-chuen forged the will of Asia's richest woman, to the tune of about thirteen billion dollars, according to some estimates.  She died at age 69 in 2007.Nina_Wang 2

The case raged for months, and The Probate Lawyer Blog featured several articles about it.  The Hong Kong judge carefully deliberated since closing arguments took place in late September.  Earlier today, the High Court released the 326-page ruling that declared Wang's 2006 will to be a forgery.

Tony Chan contended that Wang had left him her fortune because, rather than being a mere feng shui adviser for her, he was also her secret lover.  Of course, he was married during the affair.  And he was 20 years younger than she was.

Lawyers for the Wang family and charities (the vast majority of her fortune from the prior will, in 2002, was earmarked for charity), said Chan forged the new will.  They also claimed, alternatively, that Chan had tricked her into signing it by declaring it to be a "feng shui will" that he was supposed to destroy as part of a ceremony to help extend her life.

If you're interested, you can read the Court's decision here (don't worry, the helpful Hong Kong Court also provided a much shorter summary of the long legal document which is also available through the same link).  Here are the highlights:

Nina Wang did have an intimate relationship with Tony Chan, but she wanted to keep it a secret.  Despite giving him lavish gifts and payments of money, she didn't want to give him her entire fortune.

Rather, she held true to her wishes in the 2002 will, leaving most of her wealth to charity.

Wang did, in fact, sign a new document in 2006.  But it wasn't the will Tony Chan said it was.  No -- that one was forged . . . through a "highly skilled simulation".  Instead, Wang signed a Specific Bequest Will leaving Chan $10 million (poor guy). 

The Judge didn't find Chan believable -- pointing to his criminal past, among other reasons.  Chan lied and withheld relevant information from the Court, the Judge said.  And, the 2006 will was written in English, not Chinese like the 2002 will.

The judge also said he didn't believe Chan's wife either, who also offered testimony to support the validity of the 2006 will.

Chan's lawyer already promised an appeal.  But, Chan has other concerns in the meantime.  Chan may be referred for criminal prosecution based on the finding of forgery.  And he won't even have the $10 million from the "Specific Bequest Will".  That partial will wasn't located and Chan didn't offer it for admission to the Court.  So he may not even get that amount.

The real irony here is that Chan's path is eerily similar to Nina Wang's.  Her husband was kidnapped in 1990 and was never found.  (In fact, that's how she met Chan -- he was supposed to help locate her husband).  After Wang's husband was declared dead, the father-in-law challenged the will that left Nina Wang everything. 

And, just like in this case, the will was found to be a forgery and Nina Wang was charged criminally.

But, Nina Wang ultimately won on appeal and was exonerated.  She inherited her husband's fortune, despite originally losing her case.  Will her feng shui master/former lover be as lucky on appeal?

Feb 4, 2010 Update -- Tony Chan has been arrested because of the ruling.  Read the story here

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.

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L'Oreal fortune fight leads to interesting criminal case

It's been almost a year since The Probate Lawyer Blog featured a story on the court battle over whether the heiress to the L'Oreal fortune has been a victim of fraud and exploitation.  87-year old Liliane Bettencourt has been called Europe's richest woman.  In the article I wrote last December, I explained how Bettencourt's daughter, Francoise Bettencourt Meyers, sued to prove that a celebrity photographer had received gifts from the elder Bettencourt of more than one billion dollars by preying on her mental frailty.  Liliane-bettencourt

The gift recipient, Francois-Marie Banier, and Bettencourt said she was competent and made the gifts of her own free will because they were dear friends.  And yes, they said, it's a lot of money, but considering her fortune has been recently valued at $13 billion (U.S. value) by Forbes, it's not that much money.  (Anyone buy that?)

I had suggested last year that I found it odd that Meyers hadn't started a guardianship proceeding to have her mother declared legally incompetent.  Well, now she has tried that, but the effort failed because Bettencourt refused to submit to a medical evaluation of her mental state, even though a doctor who reviewed her medical records apparently felt she needed a guardian (that doctor's report is what Meyers relied on for her guardianship filing).

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The Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! Video Trailer


Here's a short video trailer to give a taste of what the new book, Trial & Heirs:  Famous Fortune Fights!, is all about:

[If it doesn't play for you, visit Trial & Heirs to see it there]

We wrote this book to give families a way to have the difficult conversations about estate planning that are so hard for people.  No one likes to talk about what will happen when someone dies.  So they put it off, procrastinate, and suddenly it's too late.

With celebrity stories, not only can you start these conversations, but you can get your loved ones to actually do the proper planning.  For example, Michael Jackson didn't use his trust properly and it led to a long fight in court that could have been avoided.  Princess Diana undermined her own will by using a letter of wishes the wrong way.  And everyone knows about the disastrous legal battles involving Anna Nicole Smith. 

We use these stories, and dozens more, along with easy-to-follow education and practical tips to avoid family fights, so your families don't end up the same way.  The book is now available at http://TrialAndHeirs.com

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.

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Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! The Video Preview

Curious about how celebrity estate errors can help you protect yourself, your family, and your heirs?  This video introduces our book, Trial & Heirs:  Famous Fortune Fights! by giving an overview of will and trust contests, using the Anna Nicole Smith case as an example.  Anyone who faces a probate fight like this one has to learn their legal rights!



 

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.

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