On January 15, 2013

It reads like the script of a crime drama or even a soap opera: A man wins a fortune in the lottery, only to be poisoned shortly thereafter. Soon the victim’s family members begin pointing fingers, accusing each other of ulterior motives while the coroner tries to have the victim’s body exhumed. If he can find out how the lottery winner was poisoned, he might solve the mystery of who plotted his death.

Unfortunately, this very real drama is currently playing out in the Midwest. Family members of the business owner are still in mourning as they try to understand how this all could have happened. The fact that the victim died without a will or any instructions for handling his estate is likely making the grieving process all the more difficult.

The 46-year-old Chicago man owned several dry cleaning businesses as well as some real estate when he won a $1 million lottery jackpot. But just one day after he picked up the check, he died unexpectedly. Originally his death was attributed to natural causes, but the coroner handling his death received a phone call from a relative asking him to review the cause of death. The new finding: cyanide poisoning.

Last week a judge approved the exhumation of the victim’s body to get more clues into the poisoning. In the meantime, the victim’s family members are in conflict over his winnings and the rest of his estate, which is tied up in probate because he didn’t have a will. Illinois law dictates that the estate should be divided between his wife and daughter from a previous marriage. But his siblings, who won an order to freeze the winnings, are concerned his daughter won’t get her fair share.

A probate judge is allowing the victim’s widow to administer the estate, but how it will be split hasn’t been decided yet. Tension in the family is understandably high; the victim’s sister wants to become the daughter’s legal guardian. His widow has said she’s too upset to recount the details of her husband’s death. And investigators have refused to identify the family member who urged the coroner to review the cause of death.

This case may be highly unusual, but battles over a loved one’s estate are not. Fortunately, these battles can be largely avoided with careful estate planning. Should death come unexpectedly, it pays to be prepared for anything.

Source: Northern Colorado 5, “Documents show battle over lottery winner’s estate,” Jason Keyser, Jan. 9, 2013

  • Our firm is well equipped to handle probate litigation, estate planning and administration. To learn more about our practice, please visit our Denver estate planning website.

Categories: Probate Litigation

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