Earlier this year, actress Anne Heche, known for her film roles in the late 1990s, was killed in a tragic car accident at 53, leaving behind two sons. To make the tragedy worse, Heche had failed to complete a will, making it far more difficult on her children.
Without a will, instead of being in control of dividing and giving her estate as she saw fit, it was instead under the control of California law. The story continued to hit headlines as Homer, her oldest son, attempted to petition a Los Angeles court to ask for ownership of Heche’s estate. In addition, Homer also attempted to find new guardianship for his younger brother Atlas, who was 13 at the time, but this guardianship, as well as the estate, has been contested by Atlas’s birth father, James Tupper.
How Did Anne Heche’s Decision Not to Write a Will Affect Her Family and Her Property?
Because there was no nominated executor or personal representative for her estate, it left the door open for competing family members to fight over who the proper executor of the state should be. While Homer is young at 20 years old, it is also not uncommon for parents to give this power to their children if they are over a certain age. Others, including James Tupper, have claimed that Homer’s attempts to control the estate, as well as assign a specific guardian to his younger brother, are a malicious attempt to manipulate the scenario. Some suggest Homer does not have Atlas’s best interests at heart. Meanwhile, others speculate Tupper himself might be attempting to alter the situation to his advantage.
By failing to write a will, Heche made it more difficult for her family to inherit her estate quickly and painlessly. She also left the door open for speculation. She failed to clarify her wishes as well, so she potentially jeopardized the welfare of one or both of her children. Even if all parties are simply trying to pursue what they think would have been their mother’s or former partner’s wishes, the emotional fatigue and frustration of fighting in court is unhealthy for all involved.
What Can Others Learn From the Case of Anne Heche Failing to Write a Will?
While this story has proven to be both a tragic family struggle and a bit of a circus for tabloids to highlight, the circumstances surrounding Heche’s estate planning is not about the activity of celebrity at all but more about how easy it can be to leave your family in a frustrating and difficult position if you pass away without creating a dictated will.
Any case in which an individual hasn’t named an executor to their estate or other important dictations in a will could leave loved ones in a difficult position. Families will have added difficulties during a time when they are mourning the passing of a loved one. That’s why it’s important to have your affairs and estate in order long before you think you will need to. Making a will might seem like something you can put off until later in life, but it’s best to have one prepared. If there is anything to be learned from such a tragedy, it’s that life is unpredictable. No one wants to leave their family in a situation similar to Anne Heche’s.
What Are Other Steps I Can Take to Avoid a Similar Situation?
Whether you are leaving a large or small estate to your loved ones, it is vital that, along with a will, you establish a personal representative who can talk with you about your wishes when planning your estate, as well as be the individual who ensures any assets are transferred to specified beneficiaries.
It also is a good idea to include your family and your children in planning your estate. By doing this, you can further clarify your wishes upon death, like explaining how much your children will receive upon your death and how you want to make sure you can assist with their financial security even after you are gone. This can also be a good way to let your family know what you would like to do with your remains, as many families who must make that decision on their own can struggle to know what you would have wanted.
While you can create a will without a legal team, an estate planning attorney can also be a major asset in navigating the specifics of dictating your wishes. Estate planning attorneys have the expertise to look out for any details that are important to clarify. They can also provide helpful ways to set up your estate to pass on to your loved ones and even assist in setting up things like a trust for your property.
Q: At What Age Should I Start to Plan My Will?
A: The average age most Americans start planning their will is in their early 40s, though many write their initial will by their early 30s. If you have considerable assets or loved ones to look over, it’s never too early to start planning your will and estate. As Anne Heche’s case shows, you can never predict the future.
Q: What Legal Steps Do I Need to Take to Write an Official Will?
A: You do not need a lawyer to write a will, though to have a will that is seen as valid, the will needs to be physically written out and signed by the owner. There also needs to be two witnesses present at the time of signing. Having an attorney guide you through the process can protect you and your estate.
Q: How Should I Go About Choosing My Personal Representative?
A: Your personal representative should be someone you trust. This person can be a family member, a close friend, or even a lawyer.
Q: Are There Any Ways to Set up My Estate to Transition to My Beneficiaries More Easily?
A: The best way to prepare your estate to easily make the transition to beneficiaries is to set up a trust with your assets. You can do this by consulting an estate planning attorney and making it so that ownership of your estate is run through the trust.
Stange Law Firm — Your Springfield Estate Law Attorneys
You don’t want to leave your loved ones in a difficult situation after you pass. To get started, reach out for a consultation with our Springfield estate law attorneys at Stange Law Firm. We are ready to help you plan for your family’s future.