Gore Vidal's Mental State Challenged In Estate Fight

By Aditi Mukherji, JD on November 12, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Gore Vidal's estate fight seems to show that not even death can kill the famed writer's signature audacious spirit and flair for drama.

Vidal, who died in July 2012 at 86 in a bed set up in his living room, gave his family the proverbial "middle finger" when he bequeathed his entire multi-million dollar fortune and assets to Harvard University.

The family now claims he wasn't mentally competent when he changed the terms of his will one year before his death.

Staggering Literary Fortune

A prolific writer, Vidal penned 25 novels and the 26 nonfiction works, including his celebrated and controversial essays. He also wrote 14 screenplays and eight stage plays, reports The New York Times.

The rich body of work amassed Vidal considerable wealth, leaving a fortune estimated at $37 million. In his original will, Vidal left everything to Howard Austen, his partner of 53 years who died in 2003. Vidal then amended the will in 2011, awarding his entire estate to Harvard.

That 2011 will has "set the stage" for an epic estate fight.

Lack of Testamentary Capacity

A common way to challenge the validity of a will is to claim the person who made the will (the testator) was not mentally competent at the time. A testator's failure to understand the extent and value of his property is one way to prove a lack of mental capacity.

And that's exactly what Gore Vidal's relatives are claiming. Vidal's nephew alleges the deceased writer had promised the property to him, but alcoholism and dementia had consumed the author in the last years of his life, reports the Times.

Vidal also reportedly accused his nephew and dedicated staff of being C.I.A. impostors and of trying to kidnap him. The celebrated author also feuded with, and excommunicated, his friends. If these allegations are true, Vidal's dementia could render the contested will invalid.

But Jay Parini, Vidal's longtime friend, suspects the surprise testamentary move stemmed from "an incredible insecurity about not having gone to university," reports the Times.

Harvard isn't a party to the suit (yet). For now, we have Vidal's half-sister and nephew on one side and on the other, Andrew S. Auchincloss, a distant relative and the trustee of the Gore Vidal Revocable Trust, which currently oversees the estate.

Who will prevail? We'll just have to wait for the next chapter.

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