Decades-old estate agreement now subjected to litigation

While most estates are settled fairly quickly and without incident, large estates can easily become the subject of controversy and litigation – particularly when the estate’s original owner died tragically. A recent example is litigation surrounding the estate of Selena, a pop star who may have been near the top of her successful career when she was murdered more than 25 years ago.

The litigation pits the singer’s father (who was also her manager) against Selena’s husband, who also played guitar in her band. According to news reports, both men received portions of Selena’s estate following her death, along with two of Selena’s siblings. The father approached his son-in-law with a contract shortly following Selena’s death stipulating that the father would retain exclusive rights to any entertainment properties related to the pop star, including any future television productions. Selena’s husband released a book in 2012 that was then going to be transformed into a television series, supposedly in violation of the written agreement.

While the details of the lawsuit are numerous and varied, one aspect of the dispute centers on a topic that should be relatable to nearly all of us: how we behave in times of grief. According to news sources, the agreement between Selena’s father and husband was signed just weeks after the singer’s murder, during which her husband was in the midst of mourning and shock. Because of the man’s mental state at the time of signing, his lawyers argue, the agreement should be considered invalid. Selena’s husband also claims that her father approached him with the agreement with the stated intention that is was to prevent piracy. Therefore, he claims that he was essentially defrauded into signing.

Mental state and soundness of mind do need to be considered when scrutinizing any contract or official document, and this is a frequent issue in estate litigation. Often, however, the dispute centers around the mental state of the estate owner when creating or modifying a will. Litigants may dispute whether the decedent was of sound mind at the time the will was created or whether the will may have been changed by “undue influence” from another person in the decedent’s life.

If you have been named as the executor of a loved one’s estate, you could likely benefit from an attorney’s help in carrying out your official duties. And if you believe that a loved one’s estate planning documents were fraudulent, unduly influenced or otherwise invalid, please contact an attorney to discuss your concerns.