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  • Writer's pictureJenny Rozelle, Host of Legal Tea

Celebrity Estate Planning - Larry King - Episode 8

Hey there, Legal Tea Listeners! This is your host, Jenny Rozelle. We’re back to “estate planning of the rich and famous” where we chat about celebrities and their estate planning – usually estate planning mistakes. And today’s episode is on Larry King – a super-well-known radio and tv host who just recently passed away this year in 2021.

Let’s chat briefly about Larry, personally – According to USA Today, he was married 8 times to 7 different women. (Don’t worry, if you had to think about that a little extra, I did too. Ha!) Anyway, from those 8 marriages, 7 women – he had 5 children. Tragically, 2 of his 5 children died in 2020 (actually within a few weeks of each other) – one from a heart attack and one from lung cancer.

A few months after his two children passed away, Larry died on January 23, 2021. With the many prior marriages and children from those prior marriages (and a couple of predeceased children), Larry’s Estate was ripe for conflict. So let’s talk about what lead to the conflict…

Larry’s final spouse was a lady named Shawn Southwick King, and they had actually been married for quite some time – I believe I read somewhere that she was the only spouse that made it to double digits. I think they made it 20+ years. Anyway, so according to a blog written by Young Law Firm out of Las Vegas, Nevada, he married Shawn in 1997 – in 2010, a divorce was filed for – but was subsequently jointly and mutually dismissed. Then, in August 2019, things got a little rocky and a divorce was filed for again.

From everything I’ve gathered, the divorce was not final – a settlement was pending at the time of Larry’s death. A few months after Larry filed for divorce, Larry attempted to HANDWRITE his own Last Will and Testament (in October 2019) and specifically left everything to his five children – which meant he was cutting out Shawn. (Keep in mind, this Will was written before his two children passed away in 2020.) Interestingly enough, 2 of the 5 children that he was leaving his Estate to, were children of he and Shawn (named Chance and Cannon).

Let me give you a little background, from my legal side of things – every state is different on how to “handle” handwritten Wills. For example, Indiana says you can handwrite a Will, but has some heightened hurdles to overcome to make it count as a valid Will. Larry’s residency is California – meaning California statutes are governing. According to an ElderCounsel blog, Larry’s Will, to be considered valid in California, must be in Larry’s own handwriting, signed/dated by Larry, and Larry must have been of sound mind.

Shawn, Larry’s last wife – the one there was a pending divorce with – has officially started the process of contesting the Will claiming that “they had a good relationship” and their mutual children, Chance and Cannon, support her in contesting the Will.

It’s probably important to note at this point that as more information is getting released, we’ve learned that the Will only is controlling a PORTION of his Estate – in fact, according to ElderCounsel again, only about $2M of Larry’s Estate was controlled by his Will … when it’s said that his entire net worth was around $140M, which the “rest” is being controlled by a Trust he had created. There’s really not much *out there* that talks about the Trust – which is, sort of, the exact reason many people, including my clients, create Trusts is to keep things nice and private after we pass away.

So, this begs the question – why is Shawn contesting the Will that only controls $2M of the $140M? She replied to that question and said, “It’s the principle.” As time passes, more and more is coming out about “the grounds” that Shawn is contesting the Will on – she actually is claiming that her stepson, Larry King, Jr., who was the child of course of a prior wife of Larry, exerted undue influence over Larry in the late stages of his life.

According to an article in MarketWatch, said Will she is contesting contradicts the “joint plan” they did in 2015 (which in the back of my mind I think – well, of course it does, back then you weren’t getting divorced, but I digress..) She shared, in a New York Post report, that “we [her and Larry] had a very watertight family estate plan. It still exists, and it is the legitimate Will. Period. And I fully believe it will hold up.”

Due to the pending divorce, Larry was actually paying Shawn $1M annually in spousal support (which that is another word for what a lot of people say as alimony) … though, because Larry passed away and the divorce was not yet settled, Shawn could stand to inherit much more (even with Larry’s attempt at handwriting a Will) due to California being, what is called a, “community property” state.

According to that blog from Young Law Firm in Las Vegas, Shawn is likely entitled to 50% of marital assets obtained during their marriage – REGARDLESS of what Larry’s estate plan, including his silly handwritten will, leaves her. Holy cow! I mean, keep in mind, they were married for 20+ years, so I’m sure the asset obtained during their marriage … is hefty. According to an article by Wealth Advisor, however, there is said to have been a Pre-Marital Agreement (a Pre-Nup) so that may play into the equation, too.

Even beyond what will happen in regards to Shawn, there is even some concern with the 2 children that predeceased Larry – he had not amended the will to say “what” would happen if his children had predeceased. Will it go down to their children (if they have any) or just go to the remaining living children? Who knows – my guess is things willl probably end up getting settled between Shawn, the children, and perhaps the grandchildren of the deceased kids. We’ll see!

With Larry passing away just this year (in 2021), there are still tons of TBDs – I hope that this doesn’t pan out to be like Prince or Anna Nicole Smith (as discussed in our podcast’s prior episodes) – both of which are still pending many, MANY years after they passed away. Larry’s Estate could be, though, depending on how much Larry’s kids put up a fight against Shawn.

So what can we learn from Larry? Well, first – let’s not handwrite a Will, for starters. *laughs* Even in simple situations, where we don’t have a lot of family dynamics going on, handwriting a Will is just a bad idea. There are several “formalities” that go into preparing a Will, that if you miss just one, the Will could be held as invalid. That’s why there are attorneys like me – that all we do is *this* kind of work. We do it, and we do it really darn well. Just, for the love, let a professional/attorney prepare your Will – so you have peace of mind knowing it’s done right.

Beyond that, I’m talking to you blended families – I’m not picking on you, but your planning requires special thought. According to the Step Family Foundation, OVER 50% of US families are considered “blended families” … there are several different “types” of blended families, but what I see most often is a remarriage occurs and the husband and wife have children from a prior relationship … and the couple MAY even have joint children, too. You may think that your estate plan is “set up” for your blended family – but I can tell you with confidence that we have to play “clean up” quite often in blended family estate plans.

And sometimes, it’s too late. Sometimes, someone has passed away and it’s too late to “fix” their estate plan. We’re left with the documents, the assets, and how they’re all set up – we can play the guessing game on what the person that passed away would have or may have wanted. I’ve seen assets, after someone passes, go to ex-spouses, biological children but not stepchildren, etc. So yeah, we could GUESS they would not have wanted assets/money to go to said people, but “guessing” in the legal world is not acceptable … and we can’t do it.

Here, with Larry, it sounds like in 2015 that he and Shawn (at least according to Shawn) created a joint estate plan that likely accommodated for their blended family. He DID do that. Though, where things went array, was when the divorce got filed. Larry, without an attorney, tried to whip up a new Will – and we see where that’s going to get us. Right inside a courtroom.

Though, this leads me to another lesson – one of the most often questions I get from clients is “how often should I update my estate plan?” You know, there are some attorneys that will say duration – i.e., every 10 years, for example.

Though, while that may be a good accountability check to make sure nothing significant has changed in the prior 10 years, I often anchor to life events – i.e., filing a divorce … that’s a huge event … a new grandchild, receiving an inheritance, a child getting divorced, buying another house, etc. I often recommend that clients look out for these type of life events, and as they occur, pull our their estate plan to double check and make sure all is hunky dory.

So yeah, Larry – we can learn a few things from your estate planning … that’s for sure.

Another celebrity, another estate planning mess…

Next week’s topic is a cautionary tale – a real-life case I’ve personally worked on. Until then, Legal Tea Listeners…be well!


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