Celebrity Mistakes: The Danger of 2 Wills

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Where there's a will, there's a way. When there's more than one will, there's a problem.

People who create multiple wills that are not properly drafted by an attorney are likely to create unnecessary confusion and discord for loved ones.

Handwritten in Haste

For example, "Painter of Light" artist Thomas Kinkade had several barely legible handwritten wills. The most recent one might have been prepared while Kinkade, an alcoholic, was heavily intoxicated.

The artist, who had an estate valued at $66 million, turned a significant portion of his assets over to his girlfriend. Meanwhile, Kinkade's estranged wife—who already had an estate plan in place—tried to get the wills thrown out. Last word was a judge was mulling it over, and the case might go to trial.

The lesson: While handwritten wills are accepted in some states, it's safer not to take any shortcuts and to have an estate attorney prepare the document.

Intercontinental Coordination

Breakfast cereal heiress Eleanor Close Barzin was the daughter of Marjorie Merriweather Post, once called the richest woman in America, whose second husband was legendary Wall Street broker E.F. Hutton. Barzin, who died in 2006 at age 96, had a $250 million estate that was tied up in the courts for years because she had wills in several countries that didn't coordinate properly.

The lesson: If you have wills in several states, it's important that your attorney can coordinate the wills with respect to the differing jurisdictions.

Different Strokes for Diff'rent Folks

Although child actor Gary Coleman (Diff'rent Strokes) died with little left in his estate, his ex-wife and business partner fought over the estate in court.

Before his death, Coleman made a change in his will (called a codicil) on his own—no, no lawyer—to include his ex-wife. But the judge dismissed it because the two were divorced at the time, and he discovered she was abusive and disloyal.

Coleman's business partner, Anna Gray, was the beneficiary before the codicil, and the judge opted in her favor.

The lesson: A prior will is not revoked automatically simply by creating a codicil or new will. If Coleman would have changed his will with an attorney, his ex-wife might have inherited the estate.

Conflicting Wishes

Carroll Shelby, the man who designed the Cobra sports car and Mustang-based performance cars, left behind a medical power of attorney and directive indicating he wanted to be cremated, which his wife later claimed to be a forgery. His wife said she had power of attorney over Shelby, but this document is typically not valid after death and doesn't outline burial instructions. This became a conflict between who had authority over Shelby's burial. The family eventually agreed to have Shelby buried.

The lesson: To ensure your wishes will be carried out the way you envisioned, include burial instructions in an estate plan that is drafted by an attorney.

Make Sure Your Wishes Are Carried Out

If you are interested in helping Gustavus Adolphus College through your will or living trust, please contact Laurie L. Dietrich '80 at 507-933-6043 or ldietric@gustavus.edu for more information.

Download our free guide A Guide to Making Your Will: Direct Your Assets to the People and Causes You Care About Most.