Ah, the classic ghost story. It always contains, as its main character, the apparition of some dearly departed that hangs around after death to haunt its former friends and relatives.
Unfortunately, however, real-life ghost stories do exist, especially in the estate planning sphere. Even though such stories don’t feature apparitions, they tell the horror stories of all the bad things that can happen when dearly departed fail to get their estate plans in order prior to death. Their financial ghosts are doomed to roam around, sometimes for years, haunting their families who are left to fight it out in court to untangle the estate horror stories they created.
The Ghost of Larry King
Take the case of Larry King, the famous radio and TV talk show host who died on Jan. 23, 2021, at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, CA, at the age of 87. He left behind not only a $2 million estate, but also numerous legal questions about how it should be divided. The California courts have yet to resolve these issues.
Media mogul Ted Turner hired King in 1985 to host his own talk show on Turner’s fledgling Cable News Network (CNN). Larry King Live became the first ever international TV call-in show. It quickly rose to the number one 9 p.m. EST weeknight cable show. For the next 25 years, King reigned supreme in this time slot, interviewing everyone from US presidents to famous actors.
King’s personal life was almost as high-profile as his TV show. Over the course of his long life, King married eight times, two of his marriages were to the same woman, and fathered five children.
Good Will, Bad Will
In 2015, King made a will naming Shawn King, his latest wife, as the executor of his estate and one of his major heirs. However, in 2019, he wrote, by hand, the following letter:
“This is my Last Will & Testament. It should replace all previous writings. In the event of my death, any day after the above date I want 100% of my funds to be divided equally among my children Andy, Chaia, Lary Jr Chance & Cannon.”
Leaving aside the spelling and punctuation errors, this holographic will, i.e., one written entirely in the testator's handwriting and not witnessed, completely disinherited Shawn, his now estranged wife from whom he’d filed for divorce two months previously. Furthermore, he made this supposed will after suffering a stroke that left him needing to use a wheelchair.
California is one of the very few states that recognizes holographic wills as legally enforceable documents, but only under certain circumstances. One of the rules is that the testator must be of sound mind at the time he or she wrote the will. Since King suffered a stroke at the time he wrote his holographic will, Shawn has decided to challenge the will on mental competency grounds.
To make matters even more complicated, King’s two oldest children, Andy and Chaia, both died in 2020. As a result, Larry Jr. claims he’s in charge of his father’s estate as the eldest remaining child since the holographic will named no executor.
Banish Your Ghost
To ensure that your family will never have to deal with your financial ghost, contact AmeriEstate Legal Plan today. We can help you get your estate planning affairs in order.