Colorado Probate Blog - Wade Ash Woods Hill & Farley, P.C.

Will Contests

The proponents of the Will have the initial burden of due execution, venue, and proof of death. The burden is on the contestant to show lack of testamentary capacity, fraud, undue influence, duress, mistake or revocation. However, undue influence cannot be inferred by motive and opportunity alone. There must be some evidence, either direct or circumstantial, to show that undue influence not only existed but also influenced the making of the Will. I have always considered the two most important witnesses in a Will contest to be the drafting attorney and treating doctor.

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Contention Over Lunar Bibles

The state of Texas and Oklahoma resident Carol Mersch, have been in a six-year, estate-related battle in court over 10 teeny microfilm Bibles that traveled to the moon and back in 1971 with NASA’s Apollo 14 Mission. These tiny Bibles contain all 1,245 pages of the King James Bible and are roughly the size of a postage stamp that can only be read through a microscope. Carol Mersch, a Tulsa business woman and author, and the state of Texas are not seeing eye-to-eye on who these precious keepsakes belong to. In 2009, Mersch became friends with a man named John Stout, a NASA chaplain. She claims Stout gave her the Bibles while she was writing a book about trying to land a Bible on the moon. Mersch has a certificate of authenticity signed by Stout, but attorneys for the state of Texas and the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services contend that due to the declining physical and mental health of Stout and his wife in their later years, they were considered wards of the state and their son, Jonathan Stout, should inherit the Bibles. Mersch is accused of exerting undue influence over Stout and his wife. She has spent approximately $500,000 defending the litigation regarding ownership of the moon Bibles. For now, until the rightful owner is established, these “First Lunar Bibles” remain stored in a Tulsa County courthouse pending a May 3 hearing.

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Suggestions For A Successful Mediation

Prior to mediation, attorneys should meet with their clients and discuss a realistic settlement result. If the client has an unrealistic outcome that cannot be achieved or the client is not prepared to compromise then mediation will not be successful. The Confidential Settlement Memorandum should discuss various settlement scenarios. Coming to mediation with several creative ideas to settle the case will foster more meaningful negotiations by the mediator with the parties.  Below are a few suggestions regarding mediation: 

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The Late Prince Rogers Nelson’s Intestacy Problem

That Prince died worth hundreds of millions of dollars without a Will is probably astounding to anyone who hears it. But it is not all that uncommon, even among the wealthy.

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