What would you say if I told you a D-List actress who never made it in Hollywood glommed onto the eight hundred million ($800,000,000.00) dollar estate of a sickly octogenarian in California while married to her first husband? You would probably say it was something straight out of Hollywood. Well it is straight out of Hollywood, the Court’s in Los Angeles where the octogenarian’s will is currently being contested.
At the end of our lives there are for lack of a better term, gold diggers, who appear out of nowhere to cherry pick the life’s work of others. This phenomenon is not uncommon and is one of the main causes of estate litigation in New York. Elderly widows, widowers or those who are single for whatever reason usually become prime targets for these opportunistic predators. These victims are singled out because as their aged bodies break down they lack the first line of defense that a spouse would normally provide.
As a NY Will Contest lawyer, I am always interested to see these cases unfolding in other parts of the country outside of New York City. With nearly 50 years combined NY estate law experience handling these challenging will contests the fact patterns never cease to intrigue us. Believe it or not it actually provides us a degree of comfort to know these will contest cases occur across the country and are not just indigenous to this region. In fact, the origins of NY will contest litigation undoubtedly lies in the primal parts of human nature. Unfortunately this part of the human psyche does not appear to be evolving anytime soon.
As a NY will contest lawyer I can tell you sometimes the oldest fact patterns often overlap with the oldest profession. Gerald Kessler, the innovator of the modern day vitamin supplement had built an Eight Hundred Million ($800,000,000.00) Dollar empire when he passed away on March 24, 2015 in Los Angeles. For the man who is widely considered the father of the vitamin supplement industry, Kessler ironically weighed nearly 350 pounds and was in poor health.
Kessler was 80 years old when he died leaving behind two children and several grandchildren. Kessler also left behind his newly wedded 48-year old second wife, Meadow a/k/a Melanie Williams. The 48-year old Williams, while a very attractive d list actress, never divorced her first husband. Thus Kessler’s marriage to Williams was bigamous and not legally recognized in the State of California.
Not unlike most NY will contest fact patterns, the bigamous marriage ceremony was secretly held in 2013 without any of the Kessler family present and later concealed. By this point the 350 pound Kessler was sickly and losing weight while still madly in love with the younger Williams according to her statements. That same year, Meadow a/k/a Melanie Williams had her bigamous husband sign an amendment to his prior will leaving his bigamous wife his entire Eight Hundred Million ($800,000,000.00) Dollar fortune. This purported will excluded Kessler’s entire family which consisted of a son, daughter and several grandchildren he had always been fond of.
Once the Kessler family learned of this fraudulent will they hired will contest lawyers to challenge it in court. In the Will Contest Lawyer’s extensive court filings they allege that Meadow Williams manipulated and unduly influenced their father into leaving her his fortune. The “gold-digger effect” can be perpetrated by anyone at anytime with the motive and opportunity. Normally undue influence can be exerted by anyone from the trusted home health care attendant to the nephew and is not just exerted by younger, bigamous wives.
In extensive court documents filed by the will contest lawyers for the Kessler family it is alleged that Meadow Williams, starved and abandoned her sickly husband who had become emaciated, often denying him medical treatment. There is little doubt the bigamous marriage was just a ploy to get at the octogenarian’s enormous fortune. Surely whatever legal instrument granted Williams access to the decedents Eight hundred Million ($800,000,000.00) Dollar estate was just another piece of her elaborate heist.
Any NY will contest litigator will tell you this is nothing out of the realm of possibility in NY estate cases. Here the 48 year old Williams married the sickly 80 year old Kessler and had her victim will over his entire fortune to her that same year. Williams did this by alienating and removing Kessler from the family, friends and anyone in society who could offer him the assistance he needed. Furthermore Williams did this all while legally married to her previous husband whom she never divorced. While most may find these facts shocking and offensive, as a NY will contest lawyer it is just another day at the office.
How to prevent the “gold-digger effect”?
From my experience litigating these NY will contests I can tell you there is no absolute way to protect your loved ones other than vigilance and preparation. It is important to maintain a close relationship with anyone you feel may be subject to undue influence as that is a key factor the court will look at in a NY will contest. The Court often asks who the decedent surrounded themselves with at the end of their lives. If it was not you, you will have to explain to the Court why. Another key element is having a trusted family estate attorney plan the decedent’s estate. Whenever a decedent has a longstanding relationship with one attorney, the Courts will question any change in counsel near the end of their lives.
If you think a family member may have been taken advantage of by an opportunistic relative or friend it never hurts to ask the opinion of an experienced NY will contest lawyer to see if it amounts to undue influence or fraud. Feel free to call the NY will contest lawyers at The Law Offices of Jason W. Stern & Associates for a free consultation at (718) 261-2444. Our Queens estate lawyers have 50 years of combined NY estate law experience drafting and probating the wills for families like yours in the counties of Queens, New York, Kings, Bronx, Westchester, Rockland, Nassau, Orange, Dutchess as well as in the State of New Jersey.