Larry King was well-known for quite a few things, two of which were his incredible interviews and his several marriages, 7 to be exact. At his death at 87 years of age, Mr. King was in the midst of divorce from the seventh wife, Shawn King. The pair filed for divorce in August, 2019.
It has now been discovered that in October of 2019, Larry created a handwritten will stipulating that $2 million of his estate is to be divided among his five children upon his death, deleting any reference to his wife, Shawn. Shawn is now contesting the document in court claiming the prior wills created in 2015 are the valid wills and Larry was pressured into creating the handwritten wills. Have you heard a story like this before?
A handwritten will, also called a holographic will, must be executed by the testator (the person who made the will) in the presence of two witnesses otherwise it is considered invalid in the State of Florida. For example, when a client brings a holographic will to our office, we ensure that not only is the will executed by the testator in the presence of two witnesses, we also provide a self-proving affidavit. A self-proving affidavit is a statement that verifies the authenticity of an individual’s last will and testament. In order to comply with Florida statutes, the two witnesses and the notary must all declare the document as being self-proving using specific language set forth in the statute, or something substantially similar thereto. Furthermore, all signatures must be completed under oath during the same sitting and in the presence of each other.
Absent the self-proving acknowledgement, the authentication process of the Will in a probate action typically requires the original witnesses to be located, evidence to be presented to a circuit judge, commissioner appointed by the court or clerk, and the court to be satisfied that the will purports the actual wishes of the decedent. It is a bit of a headache, to say the least. Therefore, self-proving wills not only serve to speed up this authentication process but also to reduce total costs to the estate.
Additionally, Larry and Shawn are not divorced yet. Absent a valid prenuptial or postnuptial agreement, under Florida law, Shawn would receive 30% of Larry’s estate upon his death regardless of the details of the estate planning documents. This is called the “elective share.” Therefore, if Shawn (and Larry) lived in Florida at the time of his death and Shawn felt like she was not going to receive her fair share of the estate, she could file an election requesting to take the elective share. In order to make this election, Shawn would have to file the election in probate court within six months of service of the notice of administration in the probate action or two years of the death of the decedent.
It is always surprising to me when celebrities with incredible fortunes do not take the time to sit down with (or Zoom) with their estate planning attorney to discuss their goals and ensure that such goals are validly created under their state’s laws. A little bit of planning can prevent conflict, heartache, and loss of estate assets due to legal fees or potential litigation.