Lessons From Anne Heche’s Estate Planning Fail

When Anne Heche recently passed away in a tragic accident, she did not leave a Will, an Estate Planning key aspect.

Confronting the possibility of one’s death is not easy. It’s the reason why many people delay the conversation or thoughts of having to prepare a Will. However, as the recent death of Anne Heche shows us, not having a Will can place a significant burden on your children and cause undesirable complications. Even if difficult, planning ahead is a better solution than the alternative.

 

What Happened With Actress Anne Heche?

The entertainment industry was shocked when Anne Heche tragically died in a car crash in August 2022.  While her death was ruled an accident, it’s one that exacted a heavy price on her family: It cost her children their mother.

Anne was divorced with two children from different relationships when she passed away. Her eldest son is 20 years old, but her younger son is still a minor.

Her case is a good example of why a person may want to consider creating a Will sooner rather than later. Without an Estate Plan or a Will, it now falls to her kids to settle her estate.

 

The Complications Of Having No Will

Although her sons are assumed to be her sole heirs, only her oldest son is of age to administer her estate. He has filed a petition for a guardian ad litem to be put in place to protect his younger brother’s interests. The guardian ad litem may be a financial burden to Anne’s estate, and the costs of securing this professional will potentially reduce the assets available to her sons.

Even though her eldest son is dealing with his mother’s estate, this is undoubtedly very difficult for a person to go through at such a young age. Anne’s eldest son likely will not be able to do this all on his own and will need the services of a Probate attorney — likely further increasing the costs of administering her estate and depleting how much is left for her children.  If Anne owned a house, the cost to her kids in terms of probate fees is likely to be significant.  California has statutory probate fees which are likely to amount to tens of thousands of dollars. 

It has also been reported that an inventory and appraisal of her estate is needed to determine its worth and what assets she had. This process requires further professional involvement and fees that her estate must pay. In addition, it is possible that the father of her youngest son may seek to intervene in the estate’s administration to ensure the child is treated fairly. Litigation costs could rack up quickly if there is any disagreement related to this.

Preparing a Will and other Estate Planning documents can make legal proceedings significantly less complex and expensive and keep your situation as private as possible. It can also make it easier for your loved ones to know exactly what you want to happen to your assets and possessions.

 

Who Inherits When You Die Without a Will?

Many people do not realize that if you pass away without a Will, your state laws on intestacy will determine who qualifies as your heirs and inherits your property.

For example, in Texas, if a person passes away unmarried but with children, the children will inherit everything (in cases where a child has pre-deceased the parent, their descendants will inherit that child’s share). But consider these scenarios:

  • What if the person had a long-term partner or was engaged to be married? They may have wanted their significant other to inherit some of their assets, but a “default” state law may lead to a different result.
  • What if you have no surviving spouse, children, parents or siblings? Your property may go to distant relatives you don’t know or escheat to the government instead of friends or other people/institutions of your choosing.

Having a Will prevents these scenarios from happening.

 

Choosing a Guardian for Your Minor Children

Another benefit parents should consider is their ability to identify a guardian for their children in advance.

This matters, for example, when the other parent is not living or cannot be located. If a person does not set forth their wishes ahead of time, multiple parties may step up after a person’s death and argue over who should care for any minor children.  Or much worse, your child could end up in foster care.  Do you really want the emotional and physical well-being of your child to be left in the hands of strangers?

A court may be tasked with making this decision, and it may not be what you would have wanted – i.e. an irresponsible relative or foster care. This can be expensive, traumatic for all involved, and a long process.

Courts will generally try to appoint the individual you have selected if your wishes are in a Will or other planning document. However, I advise against putting such a designation in your Will.  Instead, use a separate document specifically for naming a guardian for your children.

 

Do You Want To Have A Say In How Your Assets Will Be Distributed?

The bottom line is that having Estate Planning documents in place makes your wishes more likely to be honored and less likely that a court will decide what happens. This is also true where you may be incapacitated and unable to voice your wishes. While Anne Heche’s situation is not unusual, it is entirely avoidable.

Every person has different goals and circumstances. There really is no one-size-fits-all solution to Estate Planning. That’s why it’s important to find an attorney that understands and cares to help you make the most of everything you’ve worked so hard for and ensure that your final wishes will be carried out.

Create a customized comprehensive Estate Plan that best suits your unique situation with the Law Office of Antoinette Bone today. Schedule an appointment now!

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