While the probate process in New Jersey lacks the complexity found in other jurisdictions, that does not always mean that things will go smoothly. In some cases, heirs and beneficiaries may dispute the decedent's wishes or offer up documents that present conflicting plans for the disposition of the person's estate.
Estate litigation is not uncommon, but there are steps people can take to spare descendants from having to resolve ambiguities regarding wills and trusts in court. For example, take the estate of the late painter Thomas Kinkade. He died in April, but since that time his estate has been mired in an ongoing probate administration conflict between his estranged wife and his live-in girlfriend at the time of his death.
Although the origins of their disagreement are manifold, the primary bone of contention regards the validity of two handwritten notes that purport to give Kinkade's girlfriend significant assets. There are concerns about the notes' authenticity: They date from November and December 2011 and are scribbled out in a contorted script that is barely legible. They do not appear to have been signed by independent witnesses.
Together, the notes reveal a plan to establish an art gallery at Kinkade's former home. If the notes are upheld, the artist's girlfriend would inherit the home and $10 million to establish and maintain the gallery. Kinkade's wife has claimed that the girlfriend is attempting to prevent the man's heirs from inheriting what is rightfully theirs.
Wills and trusts need to receive an update at certain important life events, such as marriage, the birth of children or divorce. Of course, people can also change their estate plans at any time according to their discretion. The important point is that certain formalities must be observed when estate plans are modified. Ignoring the proper formalities can lead to costly litigation and conflict between beneficiaries.
Source: Associated Press, "Dispute over Thomas Kinkade's will heads to court," June 13, 2012.