Estate Battles in Blended Families are Common

Older-person-007A former police detective who specialised in elder abuse has herself been accused of taking advantage of a man with dementia in order to secure his $4 million estate.

Diane Miller, the man’s daughter, has filed a lawsuit alleging that she was in line to receive her father’s estate until he married Sue Campbell, who was 13 years younger, after a brief courtship. Victor Calzaretta was suffering from dementia when he married Campbell and changed his will so that his wife was the sole beneficiary of his estate. Miller alleges that Campbell was familiar with the effects of dementia, from her years of experience as an elder abuse investigator, and that she used her expertise to take advantage of Calzaretta.

The lawsuit says that Campbell married Calzaretta “not because she loved him, but to get access to his estate. Campbell’s actions were taken for the improper purpose of financially exploiting an elderly demented man for her own financial benefit.”

Calzaretta, a former police officer and lawyer, had amassed an estate worth $4 million prior to his death. In 2003, he made a will leaving his estate to his second wife. If she pre-deceased him, the estate was due to go to his daughter. His second wife died in in 2004. Diane Miller was due to inherit his estate until his marriage to Campbell in 2011.

Calzaretta allegedly began to show signs of dementia in 2008, which slowly worsened over time. He was hit with two negligence claims and was sharply criticised by a judge for his lack of preparation in a case, all of which were symptoms of his worsening dementia.

There are several reasons why an estate battle has erupted in this case.

  • Mental incapacity – was Calzaretta of sound mind when he changed his will to leave everything to Campbell?
  • Undue influence – did Campbell unduly influence Calzaretta to change his will?
  • Family provision – is it fair that Calzaretta left nothing to his daughter? After all, when Campbell dies she may leave nothing to Calzaretta’s children, meaning they will miss out on their inheritance completely.

How can you avoid this kind of estate battle?

There are a number of ways this situation can be avoided.

When making a will, you should seek advice from a specialist in wills and estates. Something they will always do is check for evidence of mental incapacity and keep detailed notes of whether they believe the will maker is of sound mind and knowledge when the will is executed.

A skilled lawyer will ensure the will maker is not be influenced by a family member or friend to make a will he or she doesn’t really want to.

A specialist in wills and estates can give advice in making a will in a situation where there is a blended family. This will protect children from a previous marriage from losing their inheritance and reduce the likelihood of a bitter dispute upon the death of a will maker.

If you need assistance in writing a will, or if you have suspicions of undue influence, please contact us for your free 10-minute phone consultation.