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Coffee company at issue in bitter will dispute

We often discuss the conflict that can arise between first and second families when a loved one dies and does not have an effective estate plan in place. But even with an estate plan, conflict can still erupt when the loved one made contradictory promises to members of both families.

In an example of this, when the owner of one of the largest privately owned coffee companies in the country died in 2009, his last will and testament left the coffee company and a 3,500-acre family farm to his second wife. 

However, the children from the coffee mogul’s first marriage believed that they had been entitled to the family business and farm. The adult children filed a lawsuit against their father’s second wife in 2009, arguing that their father agreed their parents’ 1983 divorce that the children would be given the coffee company and farm as part of the settlement.

Attorneys on behalf of the adult children argued that their father’s subsequent will giving the company and farm to his second wife should be invalidated. However, the adult children were not able to produce a copy of the 1983 divorce agreement, which they said was destroyed by their father or his second wife.

Even so, last year a jury agreed with the adult children and ruled that they should have inherited the family business and farm instead of the second wife. The jury also awarded the adult children $7.44 million in damages.

The second wife appealed the jury’s decision, but the appeal was rejected by the state Supreme Court last month.

Will contests like this one can be very time-consuming and can take a lot out of the family members who are involved. Oftentimes, careful estate planning can help avoid will contests. In this case, the creation of a trust at the time of a divorce would have been helpful.

Source: AL.com, "Supreme Court affirms ruling in family feud, clears way for children's inheritance of coffee empire," Brendan Kirby, Oct. 17, 2014

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