Will contests are not unusual after the death of a loved one. Heirs omitted from the will want to be included and those named in the will may think they are not getting their fair share. But it is rare in New Jersey or anywhere for the body of the deceased to be frozen in limbo until the will contests are resolved. But this is the case with the estate of actor Sherman Hemsley, best known as George Jefferson in the seventies' sitcom The Jeffersons.
Hemsley died of lung cancer in July. The dispute is over a will that Hemsley allegedly signed a month before his death, leaving his entire estate to his close friend and manager, also naming her executrix of the will. In late August, another alleged heir came forward to make his claim to Hemsley's estate. This man, claiming to be Hemsley's brother, was the one causing the late actor's body to be held pending the settlement of the dispute. Another man then made a claim on the estate, saying that his mother's grandmother was Hemsley's mother's sister and, as next of kin, she should be entitled to the estate.
Not only are all the alleged beneficiaries arguing over the division of the estate and the validity of the will, but they are also of different opinions about the final resting place of Hemsley's remains. Although he was born and raised in Philadelphia, Hemsley lived in Texas at the time of his death. The former manager wants his body cremated but the third claimant says that there is a burial plot for him in Philadelphia and wants him buried there in his hometown with his mother.
The probate of a will and the attendant probate proceedings, whether in New Jersey or elsewhere, often bring out the worst in family members who, for financial or sentimental reasons, want different outcomes. But when a celebrity dies and the death is publicized in the media, people who have never even met, or are aware of each other's existence, may arrive on the scene to make claims against the estate. Eventually a judge will settle the estate, allowing Mr. Hemsley to rest in peace, even if the alleged heirs are still in disagreement about the late actor's estate.
Source: HispanicBusiness.com, "Sherman Hemsley Estate, Body Still in Legal Limbo," Magnus Manske, Sept. 24, 2012