3 Estate Planning Lessons Learned from the Anne Heche Tragedy

3 Estate Planning Lessons Learned From the Anne Heche Tragedy

By Kent Phelps, Attorney & CEO of Trajan Estate

My wife takes the time to send me articles involving estate planning, or lack thereof, in current events.  I was saddened when she sent me an article about well-known actress Anne Heche’s untimely and tragic death after crashing her Mini Cooper into a Los Angeles residence recently.

Anne Heche was 53-years old and struggled with mental health and substance abuse. It is surprising that she never took the time to put even the simplest of estate plans in place. She didn’t even have a simple will.

Less than a month after her death, her 20-year-old son, Homer Lafoon, filed a petition with the Los Angeles County probate court to be named as administrator of his mother’s estate.  There are several lessons we can learn from this tragic situation made worse by lack of forethought and planning.

Loss of privacy

One article about Anne Heche’s estate I read came from Rolling Stone magazine.  So how exactly did Rolling Stone know details like when Anne Heche’s son’s petition was filed, what he was requesting, the exact identity of potential heirs and the value of the estate?  The answer comes from the article itself: “Homer’s filing, obtained by Rolling Stone, said…” 

The reason Rolling Stone was able to obtain the filing is because probate is public.  Anybody can go down to the courthouse, or in some jurisdictions, go online, and obtain the identities of the executor, the beneficiaries, creditors, who is claiming what and, yes, even the value of the estate and the nature of the assets.  (In the Heche matter, Homer disclosed the value of the estate as “unknown”- but that sensitive information will eventually become public information once known.)  This information can be used by both the enterprising and the ill-intentioned for commercial or even nefarious purposes.

Even if Anne Heche had taken the time to create a will, probate would still be required.  Had she enlisted the help of an attorney to create and properly fund a living trust, however, neither Rolling Stone nor we would know the details made public less than one month following Ms. Heche’s death.

Plan for the Unexpected

I tell my clients that I make a living planning for events that are unlikely to happen, but when they do, are usually devastating.  Of course, death is certain, but we can’t typically time our death.  Estate plans need to address the unexpected, including untimely death.

This is especially important when we have minor children. Ms. Heche’s failure to plan not only leaves the question of guardianship over her 13-year-old son Atlas 100% in the hands of the state – Homer, Atlas and the guardian will also not have the benefit of guidance from Ms. Heche as to when and how his inheritance is to be used.

Blessing, or Curse?

20-year-old Homer indicated in his filing that he and Atlas are the sole heirs.  I have 5 children who have all been 20 years old.  I don’t know about you, but as wonderful as I think my children are, I would not hand a single one of them a check for millions of dollars, never mind giving them control of their 13-year-old sibling’s millions, at the ripe old age of 20 years old.

A thorough estate plan will determine what we want to have happen should our children be minor’s or young adults at the time of our death. 

A price of fame is that your failures, as well as success, are in full view of the entire world.  We can learn from Anne Heche’s failure to plan for the unexpected and make sure we don’t procrastinate getting our affairs in order in a way that preserves our privacy, plans for the unexpected and ensures our money is a blessing, not a curse for our loved ones.

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