Case Conclusion Date: 03.31.2008
Practice Area: Litigation
Outcome: Final Determination of Heirship
Description: Theodore Becker died in December 2000, with an estate worth almost eighteen million dollars. In his will, Becker bequeathed his entire estate to his mother. Becker's mother predeceased him by 25 years, and thus, the estate was scheduled for distribution according to Wisconsin's intestate succession scheme. No closely related heirs-at-law were living, and extensive efforts ensued to determine whether other legal heirs existed. A genealogical chart prepared on behalf of some of the known claimants indicated that Becker's mother, Sophia, who had immigrated to the United States in the late 1800s, had some siblings who had at one time lived in Lithuania and Latvia, but whose issue were unknown. Over the next two years, various individuals filed claims to the estate. Various issues cropped up during the case, including the accuracy and reliability of records obtained from Latvia, the propriety and legality of mitochondrial DNA testing to aid in determining heirship, exhumation of the deceased in order to obtain genetic samples, proper legal notice to domiciliaries of foreign countries regarding heirship proceedings, and the entitlement of heirs to reimbursement for attorney's fees, among others. There were approximately 48 heirs identified, and the case went through an interlocutory appeal, as well as an appeal after the final judgment on an ancillary issue.