What Can We Learn From the T-Rex Estate? Key Insights for Last Will Disputes

This story starts in 1990 when a fossil hunter discovered Sue, a 47-foot-long T-Rex skeleton on Maurice and Darlene Williams’ property on the Cheyenne River Reservation. The couple sold Sue at auction for $7.6M, and you can visit her at Chicago’s Field Museum next time you’re in the area.

Maurice passed in 2011, and Darlene passed in 2020, leaving behind 4 children, 2 last wills, and 1 probate estate in litigation (this is starting to sound like a Christmas song).

Darlene’s original 2017 last will included all of her children and grandchildren and named her daughter, Sandra as her Personal Representative. A 2020 last will, drafted just 2 weeks before Darlene’s passing, named Sandra as Darlene’s sole heir and personal representative.

Darlene’s other daughter is challenging the 2020 last will stating that her mother was critically ill and in hospice care when she signed the 2020 last will, and there were no witnesses in the room due to COVID restrictions. There were also allegations of improper sale of Darlene’s property two weeks before her passing and misappropriation of funds and fraud by Sandra. Yikes!

So, what can we learn from this ancient dispute?

We can discuss the importance of a lawyer when it comes to a last will. Had Darlene drafted her last will with the assistance of a lawyer, a lot of the miscommunications could have been avoided.

  • A lawyer could have held a competency test to make sure that Darlene was aware of the decisions she was making and had the required level of competency to draft the last will.
  • The lawyer could have also ruled out undue influence and coercion by asking everyone to leave the room and discussing the last will with Darlene alone, away from any influence.
  • Finally, the lawyer could have been a resource and provided the necessary advice to those assisting Darlene to keep estate funds separate and not commingled, giving the illusion of improper handling of funds.

So, there you have it. We learn that a lawyer’s role is important in not just the drafting of the last will, but also in the execution and providing of legal advice. We also learn that there may be a dinosaur in your backyard; let’s all get to digging!

Portrait of Odelia Goldberg, Esq.

With over 50 years of combined experience, our probate, estate planning, real estate, elder law and asset protection attorneys provide peace of mind for our clients throughout South Florida.

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