Berman & Asbel, LLP

Body to be exhumed as result of lottery estate issue

Pennsylvania residents may be familiar with a recent story from the midwest. The investigators of a possible murder will be allowed to exhume the body of a lottery winner who died of cyanide poisoning shortly after his $1 million windfall. The judge agreed that there was reason to allow the medical examiner to exhume the body for additional forensic evidence in order to determine if the man was murdered. In addition to the criminal justice aspect of the case, the estate must also be determined.

The lottery winner died without a will, and his estate is now involved in the probate process in the county. The difficulty in this case, obviously, is that the estate is large, and so the determination of whether or not he was murdered -- and by whom -- will have a direct effect on where the lottery winnings go. Initially, the man's death was ruled to have been cause by heart disease, and so no autopsy was performed. However, several days after his body was released for burial, a family member requested that the medical examiner look further into the man's death.

The death was ruled a homicide, and the police are investigating the murder. The amount the man received as a result of his lottery win was over $424,000 after taxes, which he took as a lump-sum payment. Unfortunately in this case, the man was murdered, and it would appear he was killed in order to gain his winnings.

If the man had a will planned, he could have designated a beneficiary right away. If he had done so, the issues regarding the estate would not have become the probate nightmare they are now. Though not every person in the estate-planning process is a lottery winner, or will be, it is important to keep a will up to date, especially where large gains to the estate come into play.

Source: Reuters, "U.S. judge allows exhuming poisoned lottery winner's body," Mary Wisniewski, Jan. 11, 2013

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