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Family disputes can lead to estate litigation

Family fighting during the estate process is nothing new in California and other parts of the country. One such family squabble is ongoing in Baltimore, Maryland, over the estate of a successful businessman.

As is often the case, the dispute involves the decedent's children and his second spouse over the size of his estate. The man died at the age of 87 after developing a sizable chain of bakeries believed to be one of the largest private bakeries in the country. When his estate was inventoried for the Maryland Orphans' Court, however, it showed only $155,000 in net assets.

The widow has filed a court motion alleging fraud among the decedent's children, who are in charge of the estate. She further alleged the man had a habit of hoarding cash, often hundreds of thousands of dollars at a time, and no such caches of money have appeared on the estate inventory. She would be entitled to one-third of the estate assets, based on her spousal election.

The children allege the estate is small because his assets, including his holdings in his bakery corporation, were transferred to a trust years before the couple was married. They were married in 2015, after living together since 2000. Assets held in trust are often not considered property of a person's estate, depending on how the trust is structured. This is because a trust is a separate legal entity. For this reason, property held in trust is not listed in an estate inventory. This would include cash transferred to the trust.

In inheritance disputes such as this, the court will have the final word. It may have the authority to determine which assets claimed to be in trust should actually be considered assets of the estate. A person going through such a dispute may wish to contact an attorney to help represent them and their interests throughout the proceeding.

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