The old saying "good things come to those who wait," may be true for many things in life, but when it comes to probate cases, waiting too long can cost you. It turns out that the longer a person waits to file a probate action, the more likely it is that the court will deny the claim. Courts establish strict filing deadlines, and if someone fails to abide by them, judges are usually not sympathetic.
A good example of this is the case of J. Ronald Getty, the eldest son of the multibillionaire oil magnate, J. Paul Getty.
In his day, J. Paul Getty was the richest man in the world. When he died in1976, he left a fortune worth approximately $6 billion that was divided up by three sons, 16 grandchildren, one great-grandchild, five ex-wives, and an uncounted number of mistresses. As you would expect, with so much money on the line, his estate took a long time to settle. In fact, Getty's 26 descendants spent more than ten years arguing between themselves over who should get what share of the fortune, proving once again that great wealth is no guarantee of great happiness.
For a variety of reasons, J. Ronald Getty, J. Paul's second son and eldest surviving son at the time of J. Paul's death, ended up with the smallest share of his father's massive fortune. While his brothers, nieces, nephews, and stepmothers went to probate court to challenge the trust set up by his father, Ronald bided his time.
Eventually, three years later, he sued the trust claiming that he never received his fair share, and also that his father told him, when he was 11 years old, that he would receive the same share of the huge Getty trust as his brothers. Of course, that didn't happen. Instead, when J. Paul Getty finally died, Ronald's brothers and the Getty Museum inherited the vast majority of the fortune.
The probate court ruled against Ronald's claims in 1979, so he appealed to the Los Angeles Superior Court. Three years after that, in 1982, the Superior Court ruled against him, so Ronald appealed to the 2nd District State Court of Appeals. Four years later, in 1986, a full 10 years after J Paul Getty died, the appellate court ruled that there was no evidence that his father ever intended to equalize the trust, and moreover, the court said that Ronald had waited too long to file his claim.
In the end, Ronald didn't get billions, but he did well by most standards. He sued the Getty Museum and settled for $10 Million. He also received a house from his father, 79,000 shares of Getty Oil stock, plus $7 million in executor fees. And, while it paled in comparison to the amount his brothers received, he also got a $3,000-a-year annuity from the Trust established by his father in 1934.
Why did Ronald wait so long to file his claim? The Appeals Court asked that very question and never heard a good answer. The Court eventually had to decide that "his inaction, for whatever reason, worked to the detriment of Ronald...".
The Ronald Getty case is a good example that when it comes to filing grievances and claims in probate matters, it seldom pays to wait.
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