Family Secures Large Settlement in Contentious Inheritance Dispute

The extended family of a reclusive millionaire secured a large settlement on the eve of trial. As reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, when LeRoy Ern died at the age of 92, he purportedly left his entire $1.6 million estate to his financial advisor. At the time of the changes, Mr. Ern suffered from dementia and lived the life of a hermit. According to the allegations, soon after meeting the financial advisor, Mr. Ern nominated the financial advisor as his financial and health care power of attorney. Eventually, the financial advisor obtained an interest in 100 percent of Mr. Ern’s estate upon Mr. Ern’s death.

As is often the case in disputes such as this, the purported transfers to the financial advisor to take place upon Mr. Ern’s death occurred through a series of different mechanisms. Here, it involved a revised will identifying the financial advisor as the personal representative and sole beneficiary as well as changes to the beneficiary designation on multiple annuity policies. Other common mechanisms may include the retitling of accounts from the name of the decedent or his or her trust into a joint account, payable-on-death account, or transfer-on-death account to the alleged wrongdoer or a change in beneficiary designation on a life insurance policy.

After Mr. Ern died, the financial advisor filed the will and sought to serve as the estate’s special administrator. Mr. Ern’s family members objected to the will on the basis the financial advisor obtained a 100 percent interest in the estate in bad faith. As the newspaper points out, the family and the financial advisor settled on the eve of the scheduled trial that was set to begin this week. As part of the settlement, the family will receive the bulk of Mr. Ern’s estate. It is evident that had Mr. Ern’s family not taken court action to assert their rights, they would have received nothing. Instead, they secured a settlement worth almost $1.5 million.

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