Anne Heche was an Emmy award-winning actressâ€”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 2022â€¦but itâ€™s not her death thatâ€™s making headlines. Hecheâ€™s failure to draft a willâ€”or any estate planning documents, for that matterâ€”has left her loved ones fighting over her assetsâ€¦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 isnâ€™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 estateâ€¦but we can only assume Hecheâ€™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 Hecheâ€™s assets. Her oldest son, Homer Laffoon, is butting heads with Hecheâ€™s ex, James Tupperâ€”the father of her youngest sonâ€”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. Itâ€™s got drama, wild accusations, he-said-she-said mysteries, and more. Grab your popcorn, folksâ€¦
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 statesâ€”including her home state of Californiaâ€”do accept holographic wills as valid, they still must meet certain requirements. This emailâ€”if it even existsâ€”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 stateâ€™s intestacy laws dictate how your assets will be distributed. In California, the surviving spouse inherits the decedentâ€™s assets, orâ€”if there is no spouseâ€”the assets are split equally between the decedentâ€™s surviving children. Heche died without a spouse, andâ€”of her two childrenâ€”only one is a legal adult.
Currently, Hecheâ€™s oldest son has been granted the role of â€œspecial administrator,â€ which means he can start collecting and organizing the estateâ€™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 Hecheâ€™s estate, andâ€”until thenâ€”Tupper and Laffoon will be stuck exactly where they are right now.
Some estate planning on Hecheâ€™s part could have eliminated all of this confusion and left her legacy intact. Hereâ€™s what she could have done differently.
Drafted a will. A will wouldnâ€™t allow Hecheâ€™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 estateâ€”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 courtâ€”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 wouldnâ€™t be all over the news, her family wouldnâ€™t be getting put through the wringer, and her legacy wouldnâ€™t be tarnished by the chaos of what is sure to become an absolute probate nightmare.
Contact the Hailey-Petty Law Firm
If youâ€™re like Heche (or 67% of Americans) and donâ€™t have a will or trust in place, please contact the Hailey-Petty Law Firm. You donâ€™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. Donâ€™t leave your family to battle it out in probate court after you die. Leave clear instructions, and a legacy of love.