What happens when a Hall of Fame baseball player dies and leaves everything to… his young caretaker? Finger pointing, accusations and questions abound, but perhaps this case can be resolved before the entire estate is gone. Or perhaps not. A settlement conference was held in late September between Banks’ estranged wife, Elizabeth, and his caretaker and sole beneficiary, Regina Rice. Unfortunately the two sides failed to reach an agreement, meaning costly litigation could be the most likely outcome.
In October 2014, Ernie executed a will. The will disinherited his fourth (then estranged) wife and twin sons, leaving everything to his caretaker, Rice. Mrs. Banks alleges that Ernie was suffering from dementia when he executed the will. For her part, Mrs. Banks has already received $20,000 as a minimum spousal allotment under Illinois probate laws. Ernie’s twin sons have been quoted as saying they would fight Rice in court, but have yet to appear in any filings. To make matters more intriguing there are rumors of a private trust set up for the benefit of Rice, which would pass outside of probate and perhaps outside the view of Banks’ other potential beneficiaries.
If the matter proceeds to litigation, the primary issues are likely to be (a) whether Ernie Banks had the mental ability (“testamentary capacity” in legal terms) to execute the October 2014 will, and (b) whether Ms. Rice exerted undue influence over Ernie’s decision to disinherit his two sons and estranged wife.
What could Ernie have done differently? Perhaps he should have videotaped his will execution, providing visual evidence of sound and disposing mind and memory, that he was intentionally disinheriting his wife and children, and that he was doing so of his own volition, without undue influence. Alternatively, Ernie’s attorney could have performed a competency evaluation concurrent with the will execution. Such an evaluation may or may not involve a medical professional and typically includes questions such as “Who is the vice president of the United States?” and “What is today’s date?” The results could then be used as evidence of Ernie’s competency in the event of a future legal contest, particularly in an occasion such as this where a challenge is not only likely, but probable.
If you have questions about how to make sure your assets go where you want them to, contact your local AlerStallings attorney to arrange for a complementary consultation. AlerStallings: a lifetime accumulating wealth, an afternoon preserving it.