Dying Without a Will Can Lead to Family Drama

Family members are sometimes angry about the provisions in a loved one’s will, but battles can become particularly fierce when there is no valid will in California.

The unexpected death of actress Anne Heche in August 2022 highlights the importance of having a valid will and named executor or personal representative. A few weeks after her death, her 20-year-old son Homer Laffoon (shared with her first husband) filed a petition to assume control over his mother’s estate.

His petition reportedly stated, “The Estate consists of two (2) intestate heirs – Homer Heche Laffoon and Atlas Heche Tupper. Homer Heche Laffoon is an adult and the proposed Administrator. Altas Heche Tupper is a minor.”

Ex-Husband Claims to be Estate Executor

If named a special administrator, her son would have the power to officially open the estate and begin inventorying assets. He would not be empowered to transfer or sell assets. Despite the narrow scope of his authority, Heche’s ex and father of Atlas, James Tupper, subsequently came forward with a 2011 email that Anne sent to a lawyer.

That email asked that all her assets “go to the control of Mr. James Tupper to be used to raise my children and then given to the children.” Tupper is claiming to be the executor of the estate. He further said that Laffoon is not suitable to represent the estate or the interests of his younger brother.

In a supplement to the original request, Laffoon rejected the email, saying it does not meet the criteria for a valid will. The older brother also said that he is being blocked from communicating with his younger half-brother. He also refutes Tupper’s claim that he and his mother were estranged.

A hearing is scheduled for Oct. 11, 2022. The result may be that neither Laffoon nor Tupper will be named the representative. The court has the authority to name a neutral administrator. The estate will likely undergo forensic accounting to establish its worth.

A legally executed will could have saved Anne’s family additional pain and turmoil.

She is far from alone. Many celebrities have died without a will:

  • Prince
  • Michael Jackson
  • Tupac Shakur
  • Sonny Bono
  • Steve McNair
  • Amy Winehouse

Their ages range from 27 to 62 years old, but they all died rather unexpectedly. Their untimely deaths underscore that it is never too soon to draft a comprehensive will.

Asset Distribution in the Absence of a Will

A legally recognized will can serve many purposes, among the most important is the naming of an executor and a description of how assets should be distributed to heirs. Without this framework, the state’s law of intestate succession guides the process. The law covers many scenarios to cover most family structures.

In the case of Anne, she had two children and no spouse at the time of her death. The children would inherit everything. If she had been married with two children, her spouse would have inherited all of their community property and one-third of her separate property. The two children would each receive one-third of her separate property.

It is important to note that assets in a living trust are not subject to intestate succession or probate. Other exclusions include the following:

  • Real estate with a Transfer on Death Deed
  • Vehicles with a Transfer on Death Registration
  • Payable-on-Death Bank Accounts
  • Property owned in joint tenancy

Effective Estate Planning Protects Assets & Reduces Conflict

Losing a loved one is traumatic. When the immediate aftershock subsides, emotions are still running high. If you die without a will, the conditions are ripe for family battles that can last for months, even years.

Save your family from additional strife by implementing an estate plan that ensures your wishes are carried out. Our esteemed attorneys at Palmer Rodak & Associates evaluate each client’s specific financial and family situations to determine which tools best support their goals.

If you find yourself in the middle of a family war over a will or trust, our team also has significant experience in handling trust and estate planning litigation.

Schedule your consultation by calling (760) 573-2223 or completing our online form.