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Saturday, September 28, 2013

Revlon heiress Samantha Perelman battles uncle over share of grandfather's fortune

Another super-rich family is fighting over millions of dollars. This time it's the estate of Robert Cohen, founder of Hudson News. The issue, as stated by Mr. Cohen's granddaughter, Revlon heiress Samantha Perelman, is whether Mr. Cohen was influenced by his son, James, to exclude Ms. Perelman from his will. She alleges that over time, James caused his father to change his will a number of times to squeeze Ms. Perelman out. Click here to read the story in the National Post.

Unfortunately, many people believe that this type of dispute is limited to those with huge fortunes. The truth is, I hear each and every day from people of every walk of life that they believe someone has influenced a parent or grandparent to change their will. It is certainly not confined to the rich.

There are steps that the lawyer drawing up your will take to help protect your will from this kind of challenge. Every lawyer who draws up a will for a client must assess that client for testamentary capacity and make notes in the file to back up the fact that the client knew what he was doing. In some cases, medical information is included; often this takes the form of a letter from a doctor stating that the client has mental capacity.

The lawyer will see the client alone, and will exclude all other family members from the room. When I do this, I tell my client straight up that this is a chance for him or her to tell me anything they didn't feel they could say in front of anyone else.

When big changes are made to a will, such as leaving out someone who had been included in previous wills, I always ask my client why those changes are being made. If the answer doesn't make real sense to me, or if I get the feeling there is more behind it, I will keep asking questions  until I believe I've uncovered the truth. There may not be mega-millions of dollars at stake in each case, but the goal is to ensure that the will being drafted really does reflect my client's wishes and not the wishes of someone else.

I don't know what protections were in place for Robert Cohen. The story seems to state that the matter of testamentary capacity has already been tried and answered. But each of us should do everything we can to keep our own wills out of litigation.

The attached photo of Samantha Perelman in court accompanied the article in the National Post, and is credited to AP Photo/The Record of Bergen County, Amy Newman, Pool.

2 comments:

  1. If the woman got cheated by the uncle, she has a right to contest it. If she was entitled to a jet and real estate, she should get it.

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    Replies
    1. Yes, that's true Eric. Unfortunately this kind of lawsuit is really difficult, because it involves trying to determine a person's state of mind at any given time, and whether changes were made of free will. It's not a happy place for anyone, rich or otherwise.

      Lynne

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