Often, the rich and famous continue to make headlines long after they are gone because of the battles that are frequently waged over the estate they leave behind. Even if you are not interested in celebrity gossip, it often pays to pay attention for the lessons you can learn from their mistakes, or occasionally from the smart estate planning choices they made. For example, consider the estate planning lessons we can learn from the late Dennis Hopper’s estate.
Most people remember Hopper from the 1969 film Easy Rider, which he both starred in and directed. Hopper continued to be an award winning actor, filmmaker, and photographer until his death in 2010 at the age of 74. At the time of his death, Hopper was married to his fifth wife; however, divorce proceedings had already been initiated. Not surprisingly, the estimated $40 million estate Hopper left behind has since been the subject of considerable litigation.
Along with his current wife, Hopper was also survived by three adult children as well as a nine year old daughter from his fifth wife. The divorce itself was extremely contentious with his wife claiming she was coerced into signing the pre-nuptial agreement signed prior to the marriage. In addition, his wife also claimed that Hopper’s adult children manipulated him into filing for the divorce. According to the pre-nuptial agreement, Hopper’s wife stood to receive 25 percent of Hopper’s estate should he die – but only if they were still married and living together at the time of his death. Though she was still living in the marital residence at the time of Hopper’s death, she was doing so in violation of a court order ordering her to vacate the residence.
When Hopper filed for divorce, he did something many people fail to do – he took the time to update his estate plan to reflect the fact they he was initiating divorce proceedings. Along with changing the beneficiaries of his life insurance policies, Hopper also removed his wife as a beneficiary of his Will and his trust agreement. Because of Hopper’s forethought, a settlement was reached with his wife that gave her only a token percentage of his estate, leaving the vast majority for his children as was his wish.
Hopper’s estate serves as a reminder to all of us that an estate plan should be reviewed on a regular basis and updated when important life events call for it.
If you have not reviewed you estate plan in the last several years, or have recently experienced a life event that calls for an update, contact the experienced Missouri estate planning attorneys at Amen, Gantner & Capriano, Your Estate Matters, LLC by calling (314) 966-8077 to schedule an appointment.