It seems that old rock stars have the most interesting estates.The International Herald Tribune has reported that Ike Turner’s ex-wife Jeannette Bazzell Turner has filed a claim against his estate stemming from his purported failure to pay her her share of community property after their 1995 divorce in California.
This short piece raises a point or two of legal interest to those of us not fortunate enough to be rock stars. The fact that jumps off the page is that, if the second Mrs. Turner is to be believed, thirteen years have passed since her right to this marital property vested. If she has been diligently litigating to enforce her rights and now wishes to continue the fight against her ex husband’s estate, one would think that her rights to recover would have been preserved. The real question here is what happens to someone who waits this long to enforce their rights and now seeks to recover against a decedent’s estate?
Every state has statutes of limitations which eventually cut off one’s rights no matter how good a claim one once had. An ex spouse who waits thirteen years until her husband has died before she attempts to enforce a marital agreement and collect her property may find that she is out of luck. While it is understandable that some people do not find it within themselves to face up to an ex who has been belligerent and difficult, there comes a time when rights are lost. Every law student learns the concept of laches which literally translates to "sitting on one’s rights".
Here in New York, the law allows up to six years to sue for breach of contract (Be careful here as other causes of action may have shorter statutes. A claim for negligence has only a three year statute. A claim against a municipality or governmental body must be noticed within only ninety days and put into suit within an additional year!). Wait an extra day and you are out of luck. Once obtained, however, a judgment has a life of twenty years.
Another point to make here (although apparently not relevant to the Turner estate) is that states also enact bar claim dates for claiming against an estate. In New York, for example, a formal proof of claim needs to be filed against an estate in Surrogate’s Court within two years or it may not be possible to enforce your rights. The law wants an executor or administrator to be able to wrap up a decedent’s affairs within a reasonably short period of time and to have the fiduciaries and legatees and distributees get on with their lives.
In short, do not ever unreasonably delay enforcing your rights. Always consult an attorney so you will be aware of just what has to be done and how long you have to do it.