A national case might encourage Texas residents to ensure their estate planning documents are in order. Specifically, a copper heiress’ will is being contested in court by angry family members. The woman’s last will came in April of 2005 and left the majority of her fortune to charity and over $30 million to one of her private nurses. A will signed six weeks prior to the April document left her vast wealth to be divided among 20 of the woman’s great-nieces and nephews.

In 1991, a friend sent a doctor to visit her and found her living in a dirty apartment that was lit only by a single candle. The woman was also suffering from skin cancer and her face had been ravaged by the disease. The woman was admitted into the hospital. Although her health continued to improve after that, the woman refused to return home, instead choosing to be stay at the hospital. The woman was known to be extremely reclusive in the last 20 years of her life and she surrounded herself with private doctors and nurses. In return for their care, she showered them with gifts and lavish amounts of money.

A legal battle begins as the family is now contesting the will and seeking the return of all of the gifts she gave, including a painting donated to the hospital where she lived and also a donation to a Washington art gallery. In all, they are seeking to reclaim $37 million worth of gifts, even though the woman’s estate is valued at a massive $400 million. While the family is attempting to portray the woman as someone who had been taken advantage of, the recipients of her gifts describe her as an independently minded woman who was very generous.

So far, no one has been charged with any crimes and everyone involved in this situation has denied any wrongdoing. Many believe the woman was merely generous and chose to reward those who cared for her. This case may serve as a strong suggestion for individuals to ensure their estate planning documents are in order before their deaths. While it won’t always prevent squabbling families, it can help ensure one’s last wishes stand up against the scrutiny of a court.

Source: Yahoo! News, “Copper heiress’ huge gifts spotlighted in NY court,” Jennifer Peltz, June 17, 2012