Another Celebrity Intestate Case
It’s estimated that at least 68% of Americans have never made a will. Why, then, does it always seem surprising that a recently deceased celebrity never got around to making an estate plan?
As I’m sure most of you know, Anne Heche was killed after her car – traveling about 50 miles over the speed limit – jumped a curb and smashed into a house. The house and car caught fire. Heche was pulled out but not before she had inhaled enough smoke to basically asphyxiate her. She was kept on life support for days so that her organs could be donated.
When it turned out that Anne Heche died without a will, however, it was surprising because she had obviously taken measures to insure she would not be kept especially in light of the immediate aftermath of her car crash.
I mean, she was an organ donor, she was only kept on a ventilator to keep her heart viable for someone, somehow she had made her wishes known and they were conducted without any drama. The way things go when proper planning is done.
Somehow, though, somewhere, she never made a will. For whatever reason she did some planning but nowhere near enough planning. It could have been that, for her, the living will and health care proxy were an easy decision and she needed some time to think about the rest.
So, her 22-year old son, a few weeks after burying his mother and while consoling his 14-year old stepbrother, had to petition the probate court to be made administrator of her estate. Then he had to go to court. Then the inevitable happened: Heche’s ex-boyfriend showed up to take control of the estate himself.
He had an email from Anne Heche in January 2011 that read, “My wishes are that all of my assets go to the control of Mr. James Tupper to be used to raise my children and then given to the children.”
Waving the email (I imagine) the ex turned what should have been a ten-minute, rubber-stamping hearing turned into an hour of tortured logic, anger, and frustration that made the news across the country. Very, very public.
The ex continuously interrupted the proceedings to argue . . . well, everything. He disparaged the son, he demanded to be named the administrator because he was ‘more qualified than a Millennial,’ he kept going even as the judge tried to explain that the ex had no standing in his court.
That didn’t stop the ex from persisting until this epic judicial slap down:
“In California, if you’re illiterate, you can be an administrator. If you’ve never gone to college, you can be an administrator. The fact that he may be Generation Z or whatever, or he may be a chill guy, that doesn’t disqualify him. Maybe he’s not the greatest communicator, that doesn’t disqualify him, none of it does. If you want to file something, then file it. I think you’re largely wasting your time, we’re not here to pick the best person. I’m here to decide if he’s qualified or disqualified. Whether you like him or think he’s had a relationship with his mom doesn’t really matter.”
Anyone who had ever seen a Judge Judy episode would have known to nod, sit down, wait for recess, and go home.
Not, however, ex-husband. He started shaking his head at the Judge. It did not go unnoticed, “Take your hands out of your pockets and don’t you ever shake your head at me.”
A spectacle that ended with Heche’s 22-year old son with the responsibility to administer his mother’s estate that includes residuals from a dozen films that will keep coming into the estate for years.
It will be complicated and he’ll be doing it with his mother’s ex-boyfriend watching every move he makes while ready to run to court and give it another try. How? Because the probate court is public. Every bank account, residual, piece of jewelry, car – everything – is an open book in probate.
Annie Heche took a few minutes in 2011 to write an email, she should have taken a few hours to talk to an estate planning attorney and execute a will, it would have saved her son from his present burden, her ex from making an idiot of himself in open court, and the world from finding out about every aspect of her financial and family life.