Celebrity Estate Planning - Anne Heche - Episode 68
Hey there, Legal Tea Listeners! This is your host, Jenny Rozelle. Today, we’re on the “estate planning of the rich and famous” topic and for today’s episode, we’re going to dive into what is going on following the too-soon, tragic passing of Anne Heche. If you’re like me and struggle connecting celebrities’ faces and names – Anne Heche is most known for her acting in the movies like Six Days, Seven Nights (with co-star, Harrison Ford) and Psycho (with co-star, Vince Vaughn). I mean, everyone knows and remembers the infamous bloody shower scene in that movie, right? Anyway, another thing she’s known for is her relationship with Ellen DeGeneres, which lasted for many years (I think over a decade). According to her Wikipedia, her and Ellen were described as the “first gay supercouple.” So, clearly doing movies with Harrison Ford and Vince Vaughn, and being in a relationship with Ellen DeGeneres … that’s big stuff, right?
While I’d argue she is most known for those movies and her affiliation with Ellen, she was in a variety of other movies, films, and she even published her own memoir, which dove into some very personal experiences she went through. Needless to say, she’s very well-known, very successful, and gone too soon. So, on August 5, 2022, Anne was in a car accident. Her car ultimately crashed into a house at a very high rate of speed. This was after she was involved in some other incidents RIGHT before the crash into the house. According to Wikipedia, the vehicle entered the house, broke through a wall, and went 30 feet INTO the house. Thankfully, the individual inside the house was not seriously harmed. Consequently, the vehicle caught the house on fire while Anne was trapped inside the vehicle. After the accident, Los Angeles Police Department determined through a blood analysis that there was presence of cocaine and narcotics, including fentanyl, in her system. Sadly, Anne ultimately succumbed to the injuries and after a handful of days on life support, she passed away on August 11, 2022 at the age of 53 years old.
At her passing, Anne left two children – Homer and Atlas. Homer was Anne’s child with her ex-husband, Coley Laffoon, who, according to People Magazine, was who Anne was married to from 2001-2009. Atlas was Anne’s child with her former-partner, James Tupper. According to People Magazine, Anne and James split in 2018 after 10 years together. After her relationship with James ended, she was not really linked to anyone else relationship-wise.
According to a Rolling Stone piece by Nancy Dillon, approximately 3 weeks following Anne’s passing on August 31, 2022, Anne’s oldest child, Homer, filed with the Los Angeles County Probate Court to open an Estate for his mother. It was filed as an “intestate” case, which as we know on Legal Tea, means she supposedly passed away without a Last Will and Testament. In his filing, Homer requested to be appointed as the Estate’s Administrator, … so think, Executor. That must be what California calls an Executor. In addition to that request, the Petition also requested that a “third party” be appointed as the Guardian Ad Litem for Anne’s youngest child, Atlas, who is legally considered a minor. I think he’s in his early teenage years.
I think I’m going to pause for one second and explain what that term means – Guardian Ad Litem. I want to because actually in the Rolling Stone article, Homer’s Attorney mentioned that people thought he was seeking to become Atlas’ Guardian, which was NOT the case. I’m sure these rumors started because many don’t understand what a Guardian Ad Litem is. So, let’s talk about it, shall we? Well, a Guardian is someone who is Court-appointed to be a person’s decision-maker, which is DIFFERENT than a Guardian Ad Litem. So, a Guardian Ad Litem is someone that is still Court-appointed, but they don’t become the person’s decision-maker; instead, they are the advocate for the person to make sure whatever decisions get made on behalf of the person are on the up-and-up and are good for the person. So, Homer, in his Petition, was not asking to become Atlas’ Guardian – he was asking for someone to be appointed by the Court to look out for Atlas’ interest in the Estate.
About two weeks following Homer’s filing, James Tupper, which if you’re keeping track is Atlas’ father. Anyway, he filed a Petition and opposed many of Homer’s requests in the original Petition and argued that Anne had sent James an email in 2011 explaining her wishes in the event she passed. So, his argument was that it should be considered to be a quasi-Last Will and Testament. Furthermore, James argued that Homer should not be appointed as the Estate’s Executor because Homer lacks the “maturity required of an Administrator and that [Homer’s] lack of personal assets and income would render him unable to post the required bond.” Because of this, James argued he should be considered to act as the Estate’s Executor (instead of Homer) and that he’d hire a professional fiduciary to manage Anne’s Estate.
I recall when I started hearing some drama happening with Anne’s Estate, I knew there was some stuff going down – I just kept seeing headline-after-headline. Well, now that I’ve dove into this topic, that gut feeling is so accurate. So, the drama continues…
According to the Rolling Stone article, in James’ Petition, he shared that Homer and Atlas were supposed to attend a grief counseling session after their mother’s passing. James explained that Homer failed to show for it, and even skipped a planned dinner (that was suppose to occur between the three of them) leaving he (James) and Atlas waiting an hour and a half for him to show. James shared, “This is particularly upsetting given that Atlas is 13 years old, was with his mother on the day of her death, and he has reached out to Homer repeatedly. In fact, since their mother’s death, Homer has not seen his brother, nor had any contact with him. In light of this behavior, Homer will not act in his brother’s best interest.” So yeah, needless to say, there are a lot of words and accusations getting thrown around!
At that point, legally-speaking, things hit pause until early/mid October, which was when the next status conference/hearing would be, specifically on October 11, 2022. According to a Los Angeles Times article by Gregory Yee, at that hearing, quite the show went down, to say the least. The main topic was – who is going to be the Estate’s Administrator? Would it be Homer? Would it be James? Would it be someone else – i.e., a professional?
Well, the Judge sided with 20-year-old Homer and in his remarks, the Judge said, “As earnest as Mr. Tupper’s (that’s James) testimony was on the importance of preserving the relationship between the siblings and how the appointment of Mr. Laffoon (that’s Homer) as Administrator might affect that relationship, the Court is not aware of any authority to support the proposition that appointment of the present Petitioner (Homer) should be denied in favor of someone else having a lower priority based on that consideration.”
James’ Attorney immediately questioned Homer’s age and ability to manage the Estate, to which the Judge said, “He’s not qualified on what basis? In California, you can be illiterate and be an Administrator.” At the conclusion of the hearing, the Judge set a follow-up status conference/hearing for November 30, 2022 and extended Homer’s temporary control over his mother’s Estate to December 14, 2022.
According to a Page Six article by Bernie Zilio, Homer, as the current Estate Administrator, now has access to obtaining more information related to Anne’s assets and values of those assets. In a recently-filed document with the Court, Homer shared that Anne’s Estate is approximately valued at $400,000, and that in addition to that amount, he expects that from royalties and residuals, an annual income of around $400,000. That seems pretty low, huh, at least for a celebrity! Homer revealed a little more information about what the $400,000 Estate value contained – she resided in an apartment, so nothing house-related. So, the Estate really involves some bank accounts, tangible personal property, income/royalties, LLC interest related to her podcast, and future profits related to her second memoir set to be released in 2023.
So, since her passing in August 2022, and now, as we sit here just a couple months later in 2022, so much has occurred in those couple months. So much drama. Time will only tell if James pushes any more issues – I did notice that the Court left Homer as "temporary” Administrator of the Estate; maybe the Judge is using this time to test Homer and see if we can appropriately serve … I’d assume that any misstep by Homer, James will be at-the-ready to call him out and point the finger like “I told you, Court, he shouldn’t be in this role!” Or, maybe Homer will do a fine and dandy job, and James will sit on the sideline. Like I said, time will tell.
As we start to wrap up this episode, a couple things to learn – first, I think it’s pretty clear that James’ assertion that Anne’s email to him be a Will is obviously not enough. So, as I say time-and-time-and-time again on here, if there’s anything you don’t want to screw up, estate planning has to be near the top. Whether she sent an email to James or not, I don’t think that matters – an email to someone is not going to count as a Will, in any stretch of the imagination. Whether you have very modest savings or not, a basic estate plan is needed – you’ll never convince me otherwise. Even if it doesn’t govern many assets, merely appointing XYZ person to serve as the one in charge, the Executor, will be vital. I’ve worked on a case where after Mom died, there wasn’t much at all – I think like a $50,000 house – but the kids started fighting NOT over the money; but WHO should be in charge. Guess who got a big ol’ chunk of that $50,000 – the lawyers.
Okay, let’s wrap this episode up – next week we’re back to a “cautionary tale” episode where we talk about real-life clients, real-life cases that I, or my office, have worked on. During that episode, we’re going to be talking about a client that had appointed a corporate fiduciary, specifically a national bank, as a back-up Trustee in their estate plan – well, the person dies, their first back-up Trustee had already died, and then the bank, who was the second back-up trustee, said the “estate is too small” and they “don’t want to serve in that role.” It was a mess, to say the least, and we had to end up getting the Court involved to get a new Trustee appointed – all because the Estate was “too small” for the national bank. So, next week’s episode will be a great example of “the more you know” type of thing, especially if you have an estate plan and have a bank appointed in your documents (which used to be super common to do)! Alrighty, I’m out – take care and be well!