Anne Heche was an Emmy award-winning actress—you may know her from such blockbuster hits as Donnie Brasco and I Know What You Did Last Summer. Sadly, Heche died unexpectedly in a car crash in August 2022…but it’s not her death that’s making headlines. Heche’s failure to draft a will—or any estate planning documents, for that matter—has left her loved ones fighting over her assets…and, so far, the estate administration process has been as dramatic as her many roles on the big screen.
The fact that Heche died without a will isn’t shocking when you consider that 67% of Americans fail to draft an estate plan. An estate plan is important, no matter how large the estate…but we can only assume Heche’s assets are many and diverse. They could include anything from cash, real estate, and investment accounts, to insurance policies, royalties from her films, and more.
To further complicate matters, there are several people trying to claim stake to Heche’s assets. Her oldest son, Homer Laffoon, is butting heads with Heche’s ex, James Tupper—the father of her youngest son—about who should administer her estate and inherit her assets.
What is manifesting is an estate planning horror story fit for the Hollywood big screen. It’s got drama, wild accusations, he-said-she-said mysteries, and more. Grab your popcorn, folks…
According to Tupper, Heche emailed her lawyer back in 2011 stating that, in the event of her death, Tupper should inherit all of her assets. She specified that the assets should be used to raise both of her children, until they were old enough to inherit them.
However, an email to a lawyer is not a will. While some states—including her home state of California—do accept holographic wills as valid, they still must meet certain requirements. This email—if it even exists—does not meet those requirements and will likely be ruled invalid in probate court.
The next issue is that, when you die without a will, the state’s intestacy laws dictate how your assets will be distributed. In California, the surviving spouse inherits the decedent’s assets, or—if there is no spouse—the assets are split equally between the decedent’s surviving children. Heche died without a spouse, and—of her two children—only one is a legal adult.
Currently, Heche’s oldest son has been granted the role of “special administrator,” which means he can start collecting and organizing the estate’s assets, but cannot distribute, transfer, or sell them. Tupper, however, has requested that the court name either him or a professional fiduciary as executor of the estate. He claimed that Homer was estranged from Heche at the time of her death, though Homer alleges that this is not true.
Looks like a major probate battle is on the horizon for Tupper and Homer. Of course, probate is a slow process. It could take up to a year for the courts to name an executor for Heche’s estate, and—until then—Tupper and Laffoon will be stuck exactly where they are right now.
Some estate planning on Heche’s part could have eliminated all of this confusion and left her legacy intact. Here’s what she could have done differently.
Drafted a will. A will wouldn’t allow Heche’s estate to bypass probate, but it would have named an executor who she trusted to administer her estate, thus eliminating the argument over who should be executor. The executor also would have known exactly how Heche wanted her assets distributed, since that would have been outlined in her will. The downside is that the probate process leaves room for creditors and predators to file claims against the estate—and it seems like there are certainly some predators at play here. Even with a will, the probate process would likely be long, drawn-out, and costly.
A trust. There are many reasons why Heche would have benefitted from drafting and funding a trust. Her assets were likely large and diverse, ranging from bank accounts to real estate to insurance policies and even royalties from her movies and TV shows. Also, considering that one of her sons was still a minor, her trust agreement could have dictated exactly when and how her children would receive their inheritances. Finally, trust administration happens outside of probate court—the successor trustee can distribute assets immediately after the grantor passes away, making the process fast and seamless.
If Heche had worked with a qualified estate planning attorney and drafted a comprehensive plan, she would have prevented a huge mess: her estate wouldn’t be all over the news, her family wouldn’t be getting put through the wringer, and her legacy wouldn’t be tarnished by the chaos of what is sure to become an absolute probate nightmare.
Contact the Hailey-Petty Law Firm
If you’re like Heche (or 67% of Americans) and don’t have a will or trust in place, please contact the Hailey-Petty Law Firm. You don’t need to be a Hollywood movie star to need an estate plan. If you own anything at all, you have an estate that needs to be planned for. Don’t leave your family to battle it out in probate court after you die. Leave clear instructions, and a legacy of love.