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Heirs in legal dispute over New York photographer's estate

Famous New York photographer Bert Stern was best known for photographing Marilyn Monroe just six weeks before her death. However, more than 50 years later, he died, leaving his children and his young widow squabbling over his $10 million estate.

A 2010 will gave control of the estate to his wife, a step-mother that his three children weren't aware of.

Stern's children are in a legal dispute with their step-mother and are trying to prove that their father wasn't mentally able to make the decision to change his will. A previous 1997 version of the will left half of his estate to the children.

At the center of the argument is Stern's psychiatry records. His widow wants these records to stay private and claims that making them a part of the probate litigation could damage his artistic reputation, lessening the value of the estate.

Stern's children disagree with their step-mother. The children feel as if the psychiatric records could provide some clues into their dad's mental well-being, including why he married his wife in secret and kept the marriage from them. Stein's wife announced their marriage just before he died. She has refused to say why the marriage was kept from the children and other family members.

The children also say that there's no reason to worry about damaging the photographer's reputation since their step-mother publicly said that the best experience in the world was "driving through Sedona in his Mercedes convertible getting high on marijuana."

If you're concerned that a loved one signed a will under duress or that he or she was taking advantage of before dying, a probate dispute might be the best course of action for your family. Challenging a will can be a difficult decision, but it may be necessary to protect your family's assets.

Source: New York Post, "Fight over Marilyn Monroe photog's estate takes ugly turn" Josh Saul, Mar. 04, 2014

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