The Death of Anne Heche: A YOUNG SON TO INHERIT A HEADACHE
Anne Heche, who passed away last month from a fiery car accident in LA, died without a trust or even a will to pass on her assets. She left two sons from two relationships, one of whom is only 13 years old. Heche’s 20 year old son has priority to become the Administrator of the Estate since Heche did not name anybody else and did not pass away with a spouse, who would take priority. It will now take her son months to even be appointed, leaving him and his much younger half brother, without income or access to her assets. There is a mechanism to file for a family allowance in such circumstances but that will invite more petitions in court, and more fees to lawyers before providing for a monthly stipend to support the young boys. Moreover, the probate process in the County of LA and many other California counties will take at least a year, more likely two. Anne Heche, who had plenty of resources and two young sons to think about, could have easily held her assets in trust – fully avoiding a court process and providing immediate access to funds.
California Probate and Her Young Son
But, now attorneys will be paid a handsome fee based on the value of her assets – yet unknown – and the probate court, probate referee and the guardian ad litem for the minor son will all also be paid before the boys inherit. If Heche’s estate is $10,000,000 then the attorneys will be paid a statutory fee of $113,000, plus any additional hourly fees for what is referred to as extraordinary fees for non-standard probate work. This is a fee calculation directed right out of the Probate Code, allowing for executors and attorneys to take 4% each of the first $100,000, 3% of the next $100,000 and then $2% of the next $800,000 and 1% of the next $9,000,000. By contrast, an entire estate plan comprised of a Will, Revocable Trust, Guardianship Nomination and Powers of Attorney, would cost approximately 5% of that fee, and would have avoided court fees all together with the narrow exception of someone being appointed guardian over her minor son.
Especially when someone has minor children who cannot legally receive a distribution at the end of the probate because they are not 18 years old yet, they must have an estate plan and a trustee to manage and distribute support and income for a minor child. Why someone who surely had a cadre of attorneys did not take care of this is beyond me and is a tragedy. Unfortunately, it will be the boys who just lost their mother, who will have to wade through the mire of the probate court over the course of the next two years.
Messy Legal Guardianship
Another area that may prove messy arising out of Heche’s sudden death is the legal guardianship of her 13 year old son. To the extent the father is not raising his son or willing to take on that responsibility, Heche should have had a guardianship nomination document. The courts may overly scrutinize the 20-year-old son’s ability to take over that position for the next 5 years given his age and other circumstances. Heche’s nomination of her eldest son would have gone a long way in providing the court assurances that her oldest son is the right person for the job. And, he also would be able to manage the assets that his brother will eventually get from the probate as a 50% heir at law.
If you love your children – you need an estate plan. If you financially support people – you need an estate plan. These are non-negotiable steps to protecting your family and to do otherwise will only cost them money and a lot of pain at a time they are already hurting.
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