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'Diff'rent Strokes' star beneficiaries fight over his estate

After a person passes away in Texas, it is likely that a will or trust will be dispersed as per the estate-planning documents. In some cases, the heirs and beneficiaries are not satisfied with some terms of the estate plan and seek court intervention. When this occurs, there can be lengthy and costly litigation and even family discord.

In a recent celebrity case that may be of interest to Texas readers, child star Gary Coleman's estate has been the subject of an ongoing dispute. The actor, best known for his work in the "Diff'rent Strokes" television series, died in 2010. The litigation began soon after his death and was between the CEO of his corporation and his ex-wife. And it involved the question of which woman should be designated with the legal authority to distribute the estate to the actor's beneficiaries.

The Coleman case occurred because the actor left not only a completed will but also another, handwritten document that his ex-wife represented to the court as a new will. The new, handwritten will made the ex-wife the executor of the estate. However, the other published will named the CEO the executor.

When Coleman and his wife divorced, the handwritten will may have become invalid. Such was the argument of the CEO to the court. The ex-wife, however, asserted that the couple qualified under the state common law marriage rules and that they remained married on that theory, thus the handwritten will was valid. The two apparently continued living together even after they had divorced.

In the end the court agreed with the CEO and held that when the couple was divorced, the handwritten will was made invalid. This left the CEO with the authority to handle the estate of the actor regarding his beneficiaries, as per the wishes he expressed in his most current will.

Source: Daily Herald, "Gary Coleman's ex-wife loses bid for control over his estate," Jim Dalrymple, May 15, 2012

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