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The Estate of Shirley Cole

Learn more about the financial exploitation and undue influence claims related to Shirley Cole to see if her revised will was upheld.  Shirley Cole was the voice of orphan Annie from 1930-1940 on the famous radio show.

“Hi, I’m Kent Berk. I am an attorney in Scottsdale, Arizona at the law firm of Berk Law Group, where we handle financial exploitation, probate, trust, estate and other types of disputes in Arizona. I want to explain today what happened in the case involving the estate of Cole.

This is the estate of Shirley Cole. I don’t recognize her name but she was somewhat of a celebrity. She was the voice of little orphan Annie from 1930 to 1940 on the radio show. Anyway, in this particular case, Shirley was living in Illinois and she had adopted a will, splitting her estate 50‑50 between her daughters, Lori and Cathy after providing separately for a daughter that had special needs.

Eventually, Cathy and her mother Shirley had a falling out and Cathy tried to get guardianship and conservatorship over Shirley out there in Illinois but that case was dismissed. Understandably Shirley was upset and disinherited Cathy. She adopted a new will that left 100 percent of everything to Lori and then moved to Arizona and died several years later.

When she died, Cathy obviously found out that her mother had disinherited her and came and filed an action in Arizona for financial exploitation against Lori, claiming that Lori induced mother to sign the will, and that the will was the product of Lori’s undue influence over Shirley.

Financial exploitation under Arizona’s Adult Protective Services Act is a claim made by statute. Basically, it provides that where you have a vulnerable or incapacitated adult, and you have a person who is acting in a position of trust and confidence, to a vulnerable or incapacitated adult, the person who’s acting in a position of trust and confidence has to use the vulnerable adult’s assets solely for the benefit of the vulnerable adult.

In this particular case, the court found that the mother was not vulnerable, because although she had some impairments, some physical disabilities and some medical issues, they were all under control and managed, such that Shirley was able to protect herself from exploitation. The court found that there was no claim for exploitation against Lori.

The court then also looked at the claim for undue influence and found that mother had got an independent attorney and had independently made a decision to disinherit Cathy, such that there was no undue influence, and the court therefore upheld the will leaving the entire estate to Lori.

If you have any questions about financial exploitation, a probate, trust or estate matters, please contact us through our website or send us an email or just give us a call.” – Kent Berk