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Julie Garber

Will Actor Sherman Hemsley Finally Be Laid to Rest?

By November 12, 2012

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Even though actor Sherman Hemsley, who portrayed Manhattan dry cleaning mogul George Jefferson from 1975 to 1985 in CBS' The Jeffersons, died from lung cancer back on July 24, his frozen remains have been in storage at an El Paso, Texas, funeral home since his death pending the outcome of a will contest. According to prior reports, Hemsley signed the disputed "last" will about six weeks before his death in which he left his entire estate to his "beloved partner," Flora Isela Enchinton Bernal. The validity of the will was challenged by Richard Thornton of Philadelphia (where Hemsley grew up), who claimed to be Hemsley's long lost brother.

As it turns out, a DNA test ordered by the probate judge presiding over the will contest showed with a 99.99 percent probability that Hemsley and Thornton were half-brothers. This, in turn, allowed the hearing to determine the validity of the will to proceed last Friday. Thornton argued that that the will was not legally valid for two reasons: Because (1) Hemsley lacked the requisite mental capacity to sign a will, and (2) Hemsley's signature on the document was forged. Nonetheless, testimony of Hemsley's friends and caregivers as well as the attorney who drafted the will were enough to convince Judge Patricia Chew that the will was in fact Hemsley's valid last will and testament. According to Judge Chew, " "It is clear that from the testimony that Mr. Hemsley knew the object of his bounty, there has not been any evidence of forgery of his signature. Therefore, after listening to the testimony, the court orders that the last will and testament for Sherman Alexander Hemsley is valid and that Ms. Bernal is the sole executor of the will."

So that should end it, right? Well, maybe not, since the attorney for Richard Thornton said after the decision was handed down that he would appeal it and also take immediate steps to prevent Hemsley's remains from being buried in El Paso (Thornton wants to bury his half-brother in Philadelphia). So apparently Hemsley's remains and estate will continue to be frozen pending the appeal.

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