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Court fight over comedian Louie Anderson’s estate involves undue influence

by Legacy Plan
August 4, 2023

When standup comedian Louie Anderson died in Las Vegas in January 2022, he had amassed a fortune estimated at $10 million.

Anderson had two surviving sisters, Lisa and Shanna, and he was close to them both. In a 2016 interview, Anderson said his sisters were “the most important people in my life.” Anderson reportedly said he was particularly close to Lisa, who frequently visited his home and spoke with her brother on the phone daily.

In the weeks leading up to his death, Anderson, 68, who was suffering from a prolonged bout with cancer and other ailments, made several changes to his estate planning documents that his sister Lisa alleges were the result of greed and undue influence by his agent and manager.

One of the most significant changes to his estate plan was a trust amendment that Anderson signed from his deathbed just four days before he died. Lisa told the court that the signature, which appears to be a scribble, shows that her brother was “unable to hold a pen in his hand and write at the time,” according to media reports.

The changes to Anderson’s central estate planning document just so happened to make his agent, Ahmos Hassan, and his manager, Abraham Geisness, primary beneficiaries. Anderson’s sisters were left with a much smaller inheritance than they had anticipated.

Anderson’s original revocable living trust directed that income-generating intellectual property assets of Anderson, who also was an actor, author and game show host, be distributed to his two siblings. The amended trust, however, gave Anderson’s business associates Hassan and Geisness 30% each of the intellectual property rights, leaving 20% each remaining for his sisters.

Lisa, outraged by the drastic change in the distribution of her brother’s assets, filed a lawsuit after his death, demanding the probate court declare the amendment invalid. The turmoil, bitterness and legal battle between Anderson’s loved ones and his management team have continued ever since, and the case has languished in court and remained unresolved as of Aug. 1, 2023.

For his part, the former manager, Hassan, claims the notary at Louie’s deathbed confirmed Anderson was competent, of sound mind and understood the nature of the changes he was making to his plan.

Lisa’s lawsuit argues the opposite, claiming Anderson’s domineering associates coerced her vulnerable brother to make changes while he was in a “diminished” condition and was “unable to resist because of their undue influence,” according to media reports.

In the meantime, the legal expenses for both sides grow, distribution of assets from the estate has been delayed, and Hassan and Geisness have asked the court to penalize the sisters by further reducing their inheritance because of no-contest clauses in his will. A no-contest clause is a provision stating that if a beneficiary challenges the validity of the will or trust, they will forfeit their inheritance. The clause, however, has done little to discourage Lisa from engaging in a highly publicized court fight over her brother’s true intentions.

Ironically, Louie Anderson was a former host of the game show, “Family Feud,” and he has been the subject of a protracted battle waged by his sisters against his handlers in the aftermath of his death.

While the lawsuit remained pending in 2023, it raises important questions about estate planning and undue influence. In general, undue influence occurs when someone takes advantage of another person’s weakness or vulnerability to get them to do something they would not otherwise do. This can include pressuring someone to change their will or trust or making promises that they cannot keep.

How can my estate plan protect me?

estate planning declaration paper with a pen and glass sat on top

To prevent undue influence, there are actions you can take to protect yourself. First, you should make sure that you have a clear understanding of your estate plan and that you are comfortable with it. You should tell your loved ones about your wishes and make sure that they understand them. Also, you should have your will reviewed by an attorney on a regular basis.

The troubling case of Louie Anderson’s estate is an unfortunate reminder that even the most well-intentioned estate plans can be exposed to undue influence. If you are concerned about your own estate plan, you should talk to an attorney to discuss your options.

How does undue influence happen?

Undue influence can happen when someone changes their estate plan on their deathbed in a few different ways. One way is through coercion, which can involve threats, intimidation or other forms of pressure used to force someone to change their will. For example, a caregiver might threaten to withhold care if a patient doesn’t change their will to leave them everything.

Another way that undue influence can happen is through grooming. This involves building up a relationship of trust with the person who is making the changes to their will. The influencer might spend time with the person, listen to their concerns and offer support. Once the influencer has gained the person’s trust, they can start to pressure them to change their will.

Finally, undue influence can also happen through taking advantage of a weakened state. This might involve targeting someone who is ill, elderly or mentally incapacitated, and the influencer takes advantage of the person’s vulnerability to convince them to change their estate plan.

What are some signs of undue influence?

person thought of marionette manipulator inside their head

It's important to be aware of the signs of undue influence, especially if someone is making changes to their estate plan on their deathbed. Some signs that undue influence might be involved include when the person making the changes:

  • Acts out of character.
  • Is being pressured by someone else.
  • Is not making decisions independently.
  • The person making the changes does not understand the implications of the changes they are making.

If you suspect undue influence, it's important to talk to a qualified attorney who can assess the situation and determine whether or not there are grounds to challenge the will.

How can I protect against undue influence?

Here are some tips to help protect yourself from undue influence:

  • Have a clear understanding of your estate plan. Make sure you understand your wishes and that you are comfortable with them.
  • Tell your loved ones about your wishes. This will help to ensure that they understand your wishes and that they are not trying to pressure you to change them.
  • Have your will and trust reviewed by an attorney on a regular basis. This will help to ensure that your will is updated and reflects your current wishes.
  • Be aware of the signs of undue influence. If you see any indications, it's important to talk to an attorney.

What are some famous cases of undue influence?

Cases of undue influence tend to be common among celebrities. The rich and famous often are isolated from their friends and family and put in vulnerable situations. They may be overly reliant on their advisors for financial, personal and professional advice. A 2019 study found that 70% of celebrities have been victims of some variety of financial exploitation and are more likely to be victims than members of the general population. It seems that fame, fortune and stress are key contributors to manipulation, exploitation and undue influence.

Here are some famous cases of undue influence regarding a celebrity’s estate plan:

  • Tony Curtis. In 2006, Curtis, a Hollywood legend, disinherited his five children and left his entire $46 million estate to his sixth wife, Jill Vanderlip. Curtis’ children alleged that Vanderlip had exerted undue influence on their father, who was suffering from dementia at the time. The case was eventually settled out of court, but the terms of the settlement were not disclosed.
  • Mickey Rooney. In 2011, Rooney, another Hollywood legend, was alleged to be the victim of undue influence by his stepson, Mark Rooney. Mark Rooney alleged that his stepmother had isolated Rooney from his friends and family and pressured him to change his will to leave her the bulk of his estate. The case was settled out of court, and Rooney's will was not changed.
  • Marlin Brando. After the famous actor’s death in 2004, his former housekeeper claimed that his executor had unduly influenced him into signing an altered will just days before his death. The housekeeper alleged that the changes were contrary to Brando’s intentions and wishes.
  • Sumner Redstone. The media magnate and former executive chairman of CBS and Viacom faced multiple lawsuits and legal challenges surrounding his mental competence and allegations of undue influence by various companions and caregivers in his later years who manipulated Redstone for financial gain.
  • Huguette Clark. Clark was a reclusive heiress, and after her death a legal battle erupted over her $300 million fortune. Several parties alleged undue influence by her nurse, attorney and accountant, claiming they manipulated Clark into leaving them substantial portions of her wealth. A settlement was eventually reached.

These are just a few examples of famous cases of undue influence regarding a celebrity's estate plan. Undue influence is a serious legal issue for everyone, not just celebrities, and it is important to be aware of the signs of undue influence so that you can protect your own assets. If you suspect that you or someone you know is the victim of undue influence, it is important to seek legal advice.

How do I create an estate plan?

There are numerous options and scenarios to consider when developing an estate plan that protects your legacy and achieves your objectives, and important decisions should be made with the advice of qualified lawyers and financial experts. Membership with Legacy Assurance Plan provides members with valuable resources and guidance to develop comprehensive estate plans that take life's contingencies into consideration and leave a positive impact for generations to come. Legacy Assurance Plan members also receive peace of mind that a team of trusted, experienced professionals will assist them in developing legal, financial and tax strategies that will meet their needs today and for years to come through periodic reviews.

This article is published by Legacy Assurance Plan and is intended for general informational purposes only. Some information may not apply to your situation. It does not, nor is it intended, to constitute legal advice. You should consult with an attorney regarding any specific questions about probate, living probate or other estate planning matters. Legacy Assurance Plan is an estate planning services company and is not a lawyer or law firm and is not engaged in the practice of law. For more information about this and other estate planning matters visit our website at legacyassuranceplan.com.

Phone - 844.445.3422
Email - info@legacyassuranceplan.com
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