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 today’s episode is on the country music star, Naomi Judd, who recently passed away the year this episode is recorded – 2022. Specifically, she passed away on April 30, 2022. Before we dive into what has happened estate-wise following her passing, let’s talk a little about Naomi, as a person, first. According to her Wikipedia page, she was born in Ashland, Kentucky (a fellow Midwesterner, I like it!). Naomi had her first child, Christina, at the age of 18. Fun fact? Well, Christina … is her also-famous daughter, Wynona Judd. Wynona was just her stage name, you see. Four years later, she had another child, Ashley, in 1968, who turned out to be a well-known actress.
The ”Judd” name is sure known for their country music! In 1983, Naomi and Wynona formed “The Judds” which became quite the successful duo. In fact, they won several awards, including Grammys and CMA awards. Though, in 1981, they duo stopped performing together (but not until they did a farewell tour together!) because Naomi was diagnosed with hepatitis; Wynona, however, continued to perform, but as a solo artist. Later in the 1980s, Naomi met (and ended up marrying) a gentleman by the name of Larry Strickland several years later. They got married in 1989. Larry, too, was in the music industry – he was a singer/musician, but also did some producing as well. They were married for 32 years at her passing.
It was somewhat well-known, at least to those close to her, that Naomi had been struggling with depression, anxiety, panic attacks, and suicidal thoughts; in fact, she was prescribed some medications to help the mental struggles. Tragically, Naomi passed away on April 30, 2022 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. She was 76 years old at the time. Perhaps equally as tragic, she, along with Wynona, were set to be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame … the very next day. So sad.
So, as we sit here today in September 2022, Naomi passed away about 3.5 months ago. I hinted at this at the end of my last episode, when I normally do a sneak peak into what next week’s topic is going to be about, I mentioned that even though Naomi had so-recently passed away, that there is already things going on … and things hitting the news like “Larry is the Executor” and “Wynona and Ashley are excluded from the Will!” So many headlines, so little time, right?
It has been confirmed that Naomi has a Last Will and Testament which was signed in November of 2017 (so at least she had something estate planning-wise!) and since Wills go through probate and are public record, it’s been uncovered that Larry Strickland, her husband, but not the biological father of Wynona and Ashley, is the named Executor in the Will. As a blog by Farr Law Firm based in Virginia shares, Naomi naming Larry as the Executor is quite common to do – since Larry, after all, was her spouse.
Though, sometimes squabbles break out when the spouse is the Executor, but the spouse, who is the Executor, is NOT the biological parent of the person’s children. (We all know families where squabbles like that would happen, right? I know I sure do…) As the blog mentions, Larry is given an immense amount of discretion while serving as the Executor. The Will states that Larry “has full authority and discretion to do what he sees fit with properties within the estate, including selling or leasing them, without approval of any court or the joinder of any beneficiary.”
Beyond that noted discretion, which is a lot of discretion in my professional opinion, Larry is also entitled to “reasonable compensation for his services and any expenses, including attorney and accountant’s fees.” That sure doesn’t surprise me. In fact, that is very standard – Executors, at least here in Indiana, are always allowed to be compensated for their time and be reimbursed for expenses they front on behalf of the Estate (unless the governing instrument puts the koo-bosh on that!). Interestingly, as the Farr Law Firm’s blog explains, if Larry was unable to serve, then it was Naomi’s brother-in-law, Reginald Strickland, and Daniel Wiatr, to serve as Co-Executors. Therefore, neither of her daughters were ever even “in the running” to be in charge of Naomi’s Estate. Interesting, right?
Let’s shift to who is getting Naomi’s Estate…
According to most articles/sources for this episode, it is said that Naomi’s Estate is worth about $25 Million Dollars. So, when we’re talking about who is getting what and how much, that’s the dollar figure we’re approximately talking about.
Naomi’s Will left her entire estate to Larry – and nothing at all to Wynona and Ashley. Again, I didn’t really see too many articles talk about Wynona and Ashley’s relationship with their step-father, Larry, but this reminds me so much of something I talk about in the conference often with blended families. When you have just a Last Will and Testament, I often say, “It’s like a race to see who dies second – because whoever is left standing can not only change their Will, but it’s now THEIR Will that is going to govern assets at their passing.” So, just because assets will come to Larry from Naomi, upon Larry’s death, those assets don’t boomerang back to Naomi’s Will – they go through Larry’s Will. So, if Larry is feeling awfully generous, he could leave assets to his stepdaughters, Wynona and Ashley. Can he? Sure. Does he have to? Absolutely not.
It is said that Larry does not have any biological children of his own, but the scary part about what I just talked about is … what if Larry meet someone and gets remarried? And what if those assets he received from Naomi’s Estate … go to his next wife? Or heck, even girlfriend? Maybe Naomi would have been okay with that – but I think a whole heck of a lot of people would NOT be okay with their hard-earned assets going to their spouse’s next significant other. The AWESOME thing is that it is possible to eliminate all of this – you can do so much through a Trust that a Will just flat does not offer. For example, through a Trust, Naomi could have:
Provided assets, income, or both to Larry for his lifetime;
Then, at Larry’s passing, Naomi could have designated “what happens” then (perhaps to her daughters);
Could have put restrictions in place on Larry, if he did remarry (maybe instead of direct access to assets – he would only be entitled to income);
And, through a Trust, we probably would not even know about who-is-where and who-is-getting-what … because it would be getting settled privately and outside of the probate court process.
Beyond the saga related to Executor and Beneficiaries, there is even some stuff going on about the validity of Naomi’s signature on her Will. Now, a lot of the sources I used for this episode did NOT talk about this, so at this point, I’m not going to spend a ton of time talking about it because maybe it’s not a real thing. Though, the Farr Law Firm mentioned in their blog (and they attributed the story to an article in OK! Magazine) that a lady by the name of Peggy Walla, who is a handwriting expert and private investigator, states, “The initials and signatures are traced – they are not written by her. That means someone put a lighter piece of paper over her regular signature and traced it.” Well, that is a rather intense allegation.
Though, it’s not really gained too much steam … at least yet. So, I only mention it on this episode as a “heads up” that there’s some scuttlebutt about this – so if it does turn into breaking news, you’ll at least be like, “Oh that Jenny girl on Legal Tea talked about that!” Or if it turns into nothing, well, you’ll probably forget I mentioned it. Ha!
Because Naomi has not been gone too long, that’s about all that has gone on estate-wise following her passing. Will there be more? Oh, I’m sure. Will either of the girls contest anything? Will this handwriting thing become something? Will things … just smooth over and time will pass and the estate will close? There sure is a lot in the air right now. Actually, I always try to do one last search before I decide to record an episode to make sure nothing earth-shattering happened between writing an episode and recording – so I did that. I searched “Naomi Judd Estate.” The first thing that popped up was an article on Radar from less than a month ago titled, “Validity of Naomi Judd’s Final Will Questioned, Battle for $25 Million Estate Heats Up.” In that brief article, it talks about Wynona “talking to lawyers” about possibly contesting her mother’s Estate. I think I saw somewhere in my research that Ashey Judd was basically like, “I don’t care about the money.” So, I don’t think she is really expected to kick up a fuss, but who also really knows! Time will tell…
As we begin to wrap this episode up, I’m conflicted on what my parting words for this episode should be. Why, you ask? Well, as you know, I’m always talking about people doing their estate plan – heck, our hashtag around here is #DoYourEstatePlan but I’m conflicted because, well Naomi DID her estate plan. She did a Will, but to me, it was not enough. She could have done more planning and things probably would have been buttoned up way better than they are right now. So, I kind of feel like now I’m raining on the parade of someone actually doing their estate plan – but it comes from a good place, I promise! Maybe I should update our go-to theme around here on Legal Tea to doing a GOOD and SOLID estate plan. I just truly feel that a Will is not enough for Naomi – she could have accomplished so much more with more planning. I suppose a Will is better than nothing, but I would have encouraged her to do more (and maybe the attorney did and she didn’t bite at the opportunity!).
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 Power of Attorneys – which, I know, it does not sound like the most exhilarating topic in the world, but there’s a trend I’m seeing with this document that I really want to talk about. The trend is that the document is titled as a “General Durable Power of Attorney” and once you read it, it’s NOT that. So let’s dive into those words – general, durable, limited, and springing – and why a TRUE General Durable Power of Attorney is likely the way to go. We’ll dive into that next Tuesday, Legal Tea Listeners! Until then, take care and be well!