Three Lessons Learned from Larry King’s Will

Estate Planning, Wills

Behind the microphone, famed talk show host Larry King tenaciously worked to get his famous guests to share insightful information. Unfortunately, it was revealed after his death at age 87 that he didn’t approach drafting and updating his Will with that same level of tenacity.

After his death on Jan. 23, King’s estranged wife and eldest son became embroiled in a high-profile dispute over King’s estate, which news reports estimated to be worth $2 million or more.

King’s personal life, which included eight marriages to seven different women and five children, created some unique issues. But, still, a lot of the confusion and court battles could have been avoided had King taken the right measures to ensure his Will was accurate and legally sound.

Shawn King was married to King for 22 years when he died, but they had begun divorce proceedings. Shawn claims in her court filings, that despite the divorce proceedings, she and Larry King were working toward reconciliation.

A Will drafted by King in 2015 appoints Shawn King as the executor. A barely legible handwritten Will from 2019 — the same year the couple began divorce proceedings — split his estate five ways among his five children and did not name his wife. Two of the children died after King created the handwritten Will.

King’s oldest son, Larry King, Jr., asked the court to appoint him as estate administrator, while Shawn King contended she should be named.

Shawn King says the handwritten Will violated two post-nuptial agreements the couple had that limited her husband’s ability to bequeath gifts to his children. She also questioned King’s mental and physical capacity at the time he drafted the 2019 handwritten Will, noting that he was susceptible to “outside influences” and had recently suffered a stroke.

This expensive and emotionally taxing situation could have been avoided. Here’s how:

  1. While a handwritten Will, or edits to an existing one, could be valid, each state has a different threshold and process for determining such validity. For example, New Jersey will allow handwritten updates under certain facts and circumstances consistent with the law, but Probate Court proceedings are still necessary and may be costly. King should have worked with his lawyer to either draft a new Will or prepare what’s called a “codicil”. Learn more about handwritten changes to a Will in our previous post Why a Cocktail Napkin Isn’t a Good Place to Update Your Will.
  2. One of the most common reasons a Will is contested is because a party believes the decedent was coerced into making changes to the Will. To determine if “undue influence” was used on a testator in drafting their Will, the court will want to know information such as who prepared the Will, who was present when it was signed, how much it changed from previous versions, and the decedent’s physical and mental condition when the Will was signed. In past posts, we discussed ways to prevent a Will contest and how to win a Will contest — both of which provide information to help families avoid stressful and expensive Will disputes.
  3. A divorce brings big changes in both life and death. A divorce filing should be a trigger to update to a Will, including the power of attorney documents, guardians for minor children, accounts with named beneficiaries, and the named executor. Learn more about updating estate planning documents during a divorce in this previous post.

Larry King’s estate didn’t have to result in litigation and neither does yours. Circumstances can change and this means your Will should be regularly reviewed and updated accordingly. To learn more about how to update your estate planning documents, contact our office at 856.782.8450.

The first step toward getting your affairs in order is to download our free and simple Estate Planning Checklist. Download it here.

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