Wrangling over the probate estate of an apparently murdered lottery winner may give West Palm Beach residents a good illustration of why advance estate planning can be so critically important. Even as police continue to investigate the suspicious circumstances of the man's death, his widowed wife has had to battle through probate litigation on top of accusations of guilt from her deceased husband's siblings just to gain appointment as executor of her husband's estate.
The probate litigation stems from the discovery that a Chicago area immigrant businessman died of cyanide poisoning just days before he was set to receive a lump sum payout of $425,000 after taxes from a million dollar lottery ticket he purchased last summer. Although police have not yet named a suspect, the lottery winner's brother made no bones about pointing a finger at the embattled widow.
Even though the probate court agreed to let the widow assume control over probate administration, the brother's accusations led to a court-ordered freeze on the lottery proceeds. Meanwhile, the deceased man's sister is fighting to gain guardianship over his daughter from a prior marriage. Both siblings say that their primary concern is making sure the girl is not deprived by her step-mother of her rightful share of the inheritance.
If it turns out that the lottery winner's wife played a role in his untimely demise, state slayer statutes may bar her from being the recipient of any estate assets. Otherwise, the probate estate, which includes several dry cleaning businesses and may be worth around $1.2 million, will be equally divided between the wife and daughter under state laws of intestacy. Since the lottery winner never bothered to execute a will, it may never be known whether that outcome would represent his true final wishes.
Source: Forbes, "Unsolved Murder of Chicago Lottery Winner Sparks Family Feud," Danielle and Andy Mayoras, Jan. 28, 2013