Trusts & Estates

Quirky Neb. Judge's Contested Will Benefits Humane Society

A longtime Nebraska judge is maintaining his characteristic quirky influence from beyond the grave, as his will serves as the focal point not only for a legal battle between his heirs and a local animal rights group but fond remembrances of the impact of his work on the Lincoln County legal community.

Two surviving children of the late Judge Earl Morgan are contesting his final 2006 will, arguing that their elderly father was persuaded by undue influence when he made it, reports the North Platte Bulletin in a magazine-length article that details the dispute and much local history to boot. Morgan, who died earlier this year at age 89, retired from the bench in 1987.

The will, which was drafted by a Nebraska attorney, also apparently subjects the estate to taxes that could have been avoided. However, the main source of the legal dispute is its disposition of assets: Although the two children receive $100,000 each and are beneficiaries of a trust that is to pay their nursing home expenses in their old age. But the trust ends with their deaths, and what is left of Morgan’s estimated $3.2 million estate will go to Paws-itive Partners Humane Society, the publication recounts.

The will contest reportedly reflects something of the judge’s personality: Local lawyers recalled how he sometimes “Morganized” those on the wrong side of his courtroom rulings.

In one such instance, he found a defendant guilty of an unspecified crime but asked the investigating officer to tell the police chief that, from this point on, confessions were to be tape-recorded, former North Platte attorney Ron Ruff tells the Bulletin.

The officer told the judge to tell the chief himself. So Morgan changed his ruling and found the defendant not guilty, Ruff recounts. “Now, you tell the chief that,” Morgan told the officer.

Born on a ranch in 1918, Morgan worked at a dairy to support his family during law school, and was an announcer at Arabian, Quarterhorse and 4-H horse shows, the Bulletin writes.

“It didn’t surprise me that he left his estate to Paws-itive Partners,” says Leonard Vyhnalek, Morgan’s longtime law partner before he assumed the bench. “He had a big heart. It wouldn’t have surprised me if he left his estate to the American Quarterhorse Association.”

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