Estate Planning, Probate & Elder Law Tips, Tricks, News, Upcoming Events & More

If Only Anne Heche Had Drafted an Estate Plan…

Anne Heche was an Emmy award-winning actress, well-known for her roles in such blockbuster hits as Donnie Brasco and I Know What You Did Last Summer. Well, we know what Heche didn’t do last summer: draft an estate plan.

The actress lost her life in a car crash in August, 2022…leaving behind two sons, a questionably-intentioned ex-boyfriend and a complete estate planning disaster.

67% of Americans are guilty of not having an estate plan in place, though most agree that estate planning is important. Unfortunately, as much as we hope that tragedy never strikes, car accidents (and pandemics and poisoning and natural disasters) happen. Having an integranted plan in place proactively is the only way to ensure that what is happening to Heche’s family won’t happen to yours.

The story is fit for the Hollywood big screen: it’s filled with dramatics, wild accusations, he-said-she-said mysteries, and more. Grab your popcorn, folks…

Heche’s oldest of two sons, 20-year-old Homer Laffoon, is fighting for control of Heche’s $4 million estate. He’s up against her ex-boyfriend, James Tupper—the father of her youngest son—who claims that Heche emailed her attorney back in 2018, purportedly wanting to bestow her entire estate to him. The money would be used to raise both of her children, and, ultimately, what’s leftover would be given to them.

But…Heche never drafted or signed a legally-binding Will. The email—if it even exists—would not meet the requirements of a valid Will, even a holographic Will, which some states (including her home state of California) do consider valid.

Without a Will validly outlining the way Heche wanted her assets distributed, the state’s intestacy laws kick in. In California, intestacy law dictates that a person’s assets be distributed, first, to the surviving spouse, or, if there is no spouse, split equally between the decedent’s surviving children. Heche was never married to Tupper and was single at the time of her death. Of her two children, only Laffoon is old enough to receive an inheritance outright; her youngest son’s inheritance would need to be placed under the management of a legal guardian.

At present, the court has granted her oldest son the role of “special administrator”, which means he can begin inventorying and organizing his mother’s assets—and can defend her in any lawsuits that arise—but cannot distribute, transfer, or sell any assets. Tupper is less than thrilled with the decision and has argued that he or a professional fiduciary should be granted control of the estate.

Looks like a long and ugly probate battle is on the horizon. How could Heche have prevented her loved ones (and ex-loved ones) from what is sure to be a stressful, time-consuming, and expensive probate face-off?

A legally-binding (and up-to-date) Will. All Wills must be probated to actually transfer title of the deceased assets to their beneficiaries, so having a Will wouldn’t have kept her family out of probate. However, she would have selected an executor who she trusted to distribute her assets per her wishes and they would have known what those wishes were! Of course, the probate process opens the door to creditors and predators to file claims against the estate and it sounds like there are some predators involved in this case. Even if Heche had a valid Will, the probate process would still likely be lengthy and ugly.

A Trust. Heche’s estate is a complex one, with assets ranging from bank accounts, insurance policies and investment accounts, to royalties from her many movies and TV shows, and even a book that is yet to be published. Considering she had two children—one of which is still a minor—her estate was probably an excellent candidate for a Trust. By drafting and fully-funding a Trust, Heche could have bypassed the probate process altogether, and her assets would be distributed to whom she wanted, how she wanted, when she wanted.

All Heche had to do is sit with a qualified estate planning attorney and draft a plan. And that’s all YOU have to do to protect your family from this kind of drama in the future! You don’t need to be worth millions—if you own anything at all, you need an integrated Estate Plan. Period.

Don’t leave your family fighting it out in probate court after you die. We can bet that’s not the legacy you want to leave. Contact us today to start planning for the future and protecting your loved ones.

Monique Hineline

Smith & Smith are very professional, informative, and relatable with examples and stories to ease the estate planning process. I had the best time at their lunch and learn. Even if you already have your estate planning in place I highly recommend attending a lunch and learn. Thanks Smith & Smith!