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Tragic death of parents leaves an estate in turmoil

A few months ago, the lives of a wealthy businessman and his wife of almost 60 years ended tragically when the man killed both his wife and himself. Now, probate litigation is threatening to prolong these tragic circumstances for months or even years.

One of the issues in the case is a so-called "slayer's statute," a law which is meant to address murder-suicide situations like the one at play in this case. Because of the slayer's statute, the businessman is presumed to have died first, meaning his fortune passed to his wife, the victim. His wife's will, therefore, controls how the estate gets passed to the couple's five children.

However, the siblings have said that, although tragic, the circumstances of their parents' deaths are really a side issue in a broader conflict. Most recently, for instance, one of the siblings was able to stop the sale of certain items within her late parents' home, at least temporarily, on the theory that some of the items up for auction belonged to her personally.

Interestingly enough, some of the siblings are claiming that the estate owes a lot of debt and may wind up insolvent. At least one of the siblings, however, is not buying into this claim. Through her attorneys, she expressed concern that there had been no formal accounting to justify the claim that the estate owes over $100 million to creditors.

Even when Texans take the time to come up with a comprehensive estate plan, it does not mean that a probate battle will not ensue. Despite everyone's best efforts, sometimes tensions between heirs are so high that litigation is almost inevitable. Moreover, battles between an estate and its creditors, including taxing authorities, is always a real possibility. In these situations, people may need to turn to experienced probate attorneys for advice.

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