On January 23, 2021, celebrated television and radio host, Larry King, passed away at the age of 87. Larry King’s death and the complex events that followed in relation to his estate reveal the importance of updating and amending your estate plan. Life happens. Marriages end or see their beginning. Relationships with children and loved ones dwindle or strengthen. Family members pass on, and new ones are born. No one knows what awaits us, but when major life events do occur, it is crucial that those changes coincide with our current estate plan. Experiences such as children, divorce, remarriage, disinheritance are experiences that are likely to alter our estate plans.
Larry King had multiple marriages in his lifetime and a total of five children. He died with an estimated net worth of $144 million, according to TMZ. Considering King’s complicated situation and large estate, it was wise for him to establish a sound estate plan. Although at the time of his death, he had an existing estate plan, it was not updated to reflect his life changes which left his estate (and his children) vulnerable.
King’s first major life event: The Divorce from his seventh wife
King passed away before finalizing his divorce from his seventh wife, Shawn. Shortly after she and King filed for divorce, King left behind a handwritten will in which he clarified that a hundred percent of his assets are to be divided equally among his children. This alleged event led his (almost) ex-wife to contest the validity of his recent will in Los Angeles County Probate Court, since she was not named as a beneficiary. She claimed that the handwritten will lacked legitimacy, because King was not of sound mind at the time of its creation. Furthermore, she alleged that the will was a result of undue influence. Instead, she urged that the Court adhere to King’s previous official will constructed in 2015, in which she was named as executor of his estate and the sole trustee of the King Family Trust. A very public and costly battle has ensued involving his (almost) ex-wife and his son, Larry King Jr.
This unfortunate event teaches us a few things about estate planning. It had been years since King had updated his will and his other estate planning documents. After his impending divorce from Shawn, he had not specified his new desires when it comes to who will be assigned the executor, the trustee, and the beneficiaries and their restructured shares. If it was King’s intention to leave Shawn out of his estate plan, he should have amended his estate planning documents to specifically disinherit her as well as name someone else as his executor and trustee. History shows that relying on a handwritten will is tricky. Having a handwritten will instead of updating and amending your previous estate plan, will expose your estate to challenges regarding its validity. A legal battle in probate court is a costly (from court costs to attorney fees), long, public, and not to mention, very painful process. To prevent this and protect your assets from your ex-spouse, it is of utmost importance to update your estate plan after major life events.
King’s second life event: The Unexpected Death of his two children
King was predeceased by two of his five children only a few months before his passing. Another problem that King’s estate faces is that the handwritten will was drafted before his two children’s passing. He could have avoided this problem by not only updating his plan to discuss what happens to the shares of his two deceased children, but he could have designed his existing estate plan in 2015 in a way that addressed this possibility. Therefore, it is necessary to draft your estate plan to address potential issues, including what happens to a beneficiary’s share if they predecease you as the creator of the estate plan. Speaking with an experienced Burbank Estate Planning Attorney is vital to protecting your beneficiaries.