Classic DIY Handwritten Will Fail – the Estate of Larry King

February 15, 2021

**Note – if you haven’t checked out our latest Trusts 101 Video Series, then click HERE for our first video in the series on “What is a Will?”

Common Mistakes When Writing a Will

One of my partners this morning posted this article on Slack about famous news reporter and anchorman Larry King who wrote his own will on October 17, 2019. As trust and estate attorneys, I don’t really know why these stories of famous people massively dropping the ball on their estate planning is interesting not only to us but to people who knew of the famous person as well. But it seems to always get our attention. From Michael Jackson to Pamela Anderson and now Larry King and the many others along the way, it always seems to be a similar story: famous person makes a lot of money, famous person has a lot of assets, famous person fails to get professional help to plan their estate, famous person DIY downloads something online or writes their own document, then unforeseen events happen, famous person dies, then their estate is tied up for years in legal proceedings because the DIY document failed to address the unforeseen events and different interpretations of the DIY document lead to different distribution results. Same old story!

I took a few seconds to read the article and here’s the quick analysis I posted to my partners with the immediate problems that came to my mind about Larry King’s Will:

Wow – Larry King Classic DIY fail! Can you think of all the issues he created by writing his own handwritten holographic will?

DIY WILL Mistakes

Here’s what immediately pops into my mind that is wrong with his DIY will:
  1. $2 Million unfunded to trust caused unnecessary probate which will cost about $36,000 or so in attorney fees and another $36,000 in executor fees – instead could have done a proper estate plan for 5% of that and avoided probate entirely;
  2. Will does not pourover to trust if one was created so potentially different distribution plan between will and trust if there is one;
  3. “divided equally among my children (5 names)” and then 2 predecease! oops failure to plan alternative beneficiaries will create litigation as to whether it was equal division among surviving children (3) or equal shares among children (5) and the two predeceased children’s shares should pass to their issue;
  4. Highly unlikely that there is an Independent Administration clause so the Personal Rep will have to get court approval for everything (this will cost additional attorney fees of maybe $5k to $10k);
  5. Highly unlikely that there is a bond waiver so the Personal Rep will have to be bonded (in a $2M estate this will cost maybe $8k per year and require funds to be held in a special blocked account probably); and
  6. Larry created the will 2 months after he filed for divorce and omitted his spouse – which you can do – it is not a violation of the Automatic Temporary Restraining Order (ATRO) in family law to make a new will while divorce is pending, however, the separated spouse is still the spouse until divorce is final and she will likely file her own Spousal Property Petition in the Estate of Larry King to have the Court determine how much of the $2 Million is Community Property and Mr. King’s Separate Property – he can only will away 50% of his CP and 100% of his SP to persons other than his spouse so the kids will have their lawyers fight against this because everything she gets through her Spousal Property Petition will reduce what the kids get — more litigation, more attorney fees, more delay, more fighting.

As you can see writing your own will can create a nightmare after you’re gone. And, don’t think that this doesn’t apply to you because Larry King is wealthy and your estate is modest – this is just not true. Whether your estate is $200,000 or $2,000,000 the same rules apply but the effects will be even worse in a smaller estate because a larger relative percentage of the estate will be used for fees and costs. Sad and unnecessary to treat one’s family with that kind of disrespect.

Learn all you can ahead of time, check out our Trusts 101 Video series and our first video HERE “What is a Will?” Then, get it right and get it done and have a pro take care of you!