Fred Thompson and his wife Jeri in 2010. Photo: The Georgetown Dish
When U.S. Senator and Hollywood actor Fred Thompson died in November of last year at the age of 73, he left behind a rich legacy in both politics and show business. Not only had Thompson represented his home state of Tennessee in the U.S. Senate from 1993 to 2004, but his strong jaw and good-old-boy charisma became familiar to anyone who watched the Law & Order series or any number of political thrillers. Since his passing, though, we've seen a familiar dispute erupt, one that has led to contentious estate litigation over his inheritance.
Thompson was married twice, bringing up two children with each of his wives. As is often typical, a fight over estate assets between the children of the deceased and their stepmother has brought the case to probate court. Tony and Dan Thompson, the two sons from the late senator's first marriage, have filed an action alleging undue influence over the ailing Thompson in his final days by his second wife Jeri. Fred and Jeri Thompson had married in 2002, producing a daughter a year later and a son in 2006 (Jeri was 24 years his junior). She had been designated the primary beneficiary of her husband's estate, of which $50,000 each was allotted to Tony and Dan by their father.
Jeri Thompson, however, is fighting back against her stepsons' claims, stating that no changes to the estate were made that concerned Tony and Dan's position in the will. Her legal team is also unloading on the two elder Thompson sons, pushing for a dismissal of the action:
Each of (Thompson's sons') alleged claims against (Jeri Thompson) in this matter is founded upon a single premise - that (Jeri Thompson) took something that belonged to (Thompson's sons) either through her own actions or by influencing the actions of Senator Thompson. That premise is unsound, unsupported and contradicted by the undisputed facts of this case. No person made any changes to Senator Thompson's estate plans in October 2015 that caused any change in (Thompson's sons') position.
Jeri goes on to say that aside from provisions made for the two younger Thompson children, no changes to the will were made. Supposedly the senator was looking to change some aspects of his estate, but his "condition worsened," and his attorneys concluded that no longer had the capacity for such decisions. For the elder Thompson sons, the key to any potential undue influence might be found in the circumstances whenever he last changed the document.
Whether the case is celebrities, politicians or normal everyday folks, there's no escaping human nature. The potential for estate and trust litigation grows whenever there's an uneasy relationship between a stepmother and children from a first marriage, and Fred Thompson's legacy has proven to be no exception.