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Unsettled divorce can cast pall over estate resolution

One good reason to stay on top of updating your will and estate plan is that you never know what's going to happen to you, or what action some survivor may launch after you are gone. Life events, such as being stricken by cancer or filing for divorce can affect the way your plans play out unless you are diligent in making modifications as developments occur and make sure those changes are communicated. This is true in New Jersey and everywhere else.

What can happen when things aren't properly attended to is what appears to be happening with the family of a well-to-do businessman in Detroit. He died last May after an extended battle against cancer. Earlier in the year, his wife went to court to have him declared incompetent. His response was to sue her for divorce. His estate has been tied up in court since his passing.

The man's family held a funeral for him shortly after he died. More than 1,000 mourners, some very high profile, attended. But his estranged wife was not there. A brother of the man says the remains had been interred in a temporary mausoleum pending the completion of a permanent memorial site; all according to his brother's written wishes.

Then, late last month, six months after the death, the estranged wife reportedly took it upon herself to have his remains buried, which was not according to his wishes. Her publicist says she had only just learned that her husband's remains hadn't been properly interred. So, she got a plot, pulled together some funeral home staff and her security people, and had him buried. Afterward, she issued a statement saying now she and her daughter could now enjoy some closure.

But the man's family is outraged. They say he made it explicitly clear, in writing, that he did not want his estranged wife involved in any part of his funeral process. One brother says the move took everyone by surprise. She didn't consult anyone, he says, and he doesn't know what prompted her action. He says the family is now exploring what options there might be to respond.

Source: The Detroit News, "Family protests Barden's burial six months after death," Josh Katzenstein and Serena Maria Daniels, Nov. 26, 2011

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