Hey there, Legal Tea Listeners! This is your host, Jenny Rozelle. Today, we’re on the “celebrity estate planning” topic and for today’s episode, we’re going to dive into what happened following the death of well-known actor, Paul Walker. Some Legal Tea Listeners may recognize his name and face from his role in the soap opera, The Young and the Restless, during the 1990s, and then thereafter, he starred in a ton of movies like She’s All That, Joy Ride, Varsity Blues, and The Fast and the Furious. He was in plenty of others, but that’s just to name a few. So, a super well-known actor for anyone that is probably over the age of 30! Unfortunately, he had a short life and died at an early age. So, as we always do on these celebrity estate planning episodes, let’s talk a little bit about Paul personally, so we know who was near-and-dear to him – especially as it relates to what happened estate-wise following his passing.
According to his Wikipedia page – First, a little fun fact, Paul Walker was Paul Walker, IV – which I totally didn’t know. He was born in September of 1973 in Glendale, California – his mother, Cheryl, was a fashion model and his father, Paul Walker III, was a sewer contractor … and another little fun fact, his Dad, Paul III, was also an amateur boxer and was a two-time Golden Gloves champion. Kind of cool! Interestingly, at the age of two, he started his … I guess you call it modeling career … for Pampers. Thereafter, he appeared in some commercials and smaller things, until he landed a role on The Young and the Restless. I totally remember my Mom watching that show and maybe I was too young to realize it, but I do NOT remember him being on it. Anyway, he WAS – he was Brandon on there. Then, later on, in the late 1990s and early 2000s is when he starred in those shows I mentioned earlier – like, She’s All That, Joy Ride, Varsity Blues, and The Fast and the Furious.
Still according to his Wikipedia page, Paul, during that time, dated a lady by the name of Rebecca Soteros and together, they welcomed a child, a daughter specifically, by the name of Meadow Rain Walker. Meadow was born in 1998. Not long thereafter, Paul and Rebecca split up and Meadow lived with Rebecca for thirteen years in Hawaii, but ultimately came back to the states in 2011 to live with Paul in California. Meadow was Paul’s only child – therefore, he had no other kiddos before he passed away.
As you may expect since he starred in several of the Fast and the Furious movies, Paul was a big car guy. Not only did he actually compete in some racing series (like the Redline Time Attack), but even shortly before his death, he was preparing for an auto show. Furthermore, his car collection was extensive, I tell you. He had about 30, yes 30, cars; though, some of which were co-owned by his financial advisor, Roger Rodas. A handful of years after his passing, specifically in 2020, 21 of the vehicles were sold at a car auction and proceeds were in the neighborhood of $2.33 Million Dollars. If you do the math ($2.33 Million / 21 vehicles) … that averages out to about $111,000 PER car. Wow! So, probably some were more, some were less, but nonetheless … wow!
On November 30, 2013, Paul and his financial advisor/friend, Roger, had attended an event for a charity that Paul had founded called Reach Out Worldwide – and as Roger was driving, the car crashed and caught on fire. It was released that the Porsche that they were in was traveling between 80-93 miles per hour in a 45 miles per hour zone. Super sadly, Roger and Paul both died in the vehicle crash. It was released later there was no “funny business” going on – like no drugs/alcohol, no “drag” racing, no mechanical failure. Just the speed and age of the tires is what the crash was blamed on. So, so sad. At the time of Paul’s death, he, of course, left his daughter, Meadow, but was also in a relationship with a lady by the name of Jasmine Pilchard-Gosnell.
So, shifting at this point to estate stuff and things, it is reported that Paul’s estate totaled up to about $25 Million Dollars. To support that estate, he did, indeed, have an estate plan done. Good job, Paul! And his estate plan went a little something like this: According to a blog by the Law Offices of James F. Roberts located in Orange County, California, which is of course linked in the source links for this episode, he left his entire estate to his daughter, Meadow, and did not choose to leave anything to anyone else, including his long-time (7 years) girlfriend, Jasmine. Paul’s Last Will and Testament was signed in 2001, which was the year that the first Fast and Furious movie debuted, which naturally generated multiple millions of dollars for Paul (and later, Paul’s estate). In the Will, Paul named his father, Paul III, as the estate’s executor and name his mother, Cheryl, as Meadow’s guardian (which is important because Meadow was only 15 years old at the time of his passing).
Furthermore, according to LiveAbout.com, Paul also had a Revocable Living Trust – and so his Will was what is informally called in my world a Pourover Will. The purpose of the Pourover Will is to do a few things – like 1) Appoint an executor to do thing “outside” the Revocable Living Trust; 2) Appoint a guardian for minor children (here Meadow); and 3) take any assets OUT of the Revocable Living Trust and “pour them over” IN to the Trust. Hence, why it’s called a Pourover Will. So, exactly how Meadow inherited the fortune is a little unclear – but that’s the beautiful thing about Trusts, that they are private. So, we don’t know if Meadow maybe inherited based on hitting certain ages or hitting certain milestones. What we do know is that Cheryl, Paul’s mother, is likely or was likely in charge of Meadow’s inheritance/money, and getting it distributed out as Paul stipulated in his Revocable Living Trust.
A couple of other things that did happen following Paul’s passing were a few lawsuits, so let’s talk about them – and how they got resolved. So, first, in December 2014, according to Paul’s Wikipedia page, Paul’s Dad, Paul III, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Roger Roda’s Estate. So, as a reminder, Roger is the guy that Paul was riding in the car with, and who was driving, but Roger was also Paul’s friend and financial advisor. Anyway, Pauls’ dad filed a lawsuit against Roger’s estate “seeking the return of OR a proportionate share of [the] revenue generated by a group of automobiles that were jointly owned by both Paul and Roger.” That was one reason – but according to a article on Entertainment Online, another part of the lawsuit was basically because Roger was driving, dare I say recklessly, and caused the crash, which ultimately is what cut Paul’s life short. Because his life was cut short, Roger’s estate should “pay up” for what Paul COULD HAVE made. Anyway, the lawsuit was successful and reached a settlement against Roger’s estate for $10.1 Million Dollars.
Now, another lawsuit occurred in September 2015, and this time it was Meadow, Paul’s daughter, suing someone. Meadow filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Porsche and she claimed, according to Wikipedia, she claimed “that the Porsche had numerous design defects including a history of instability and that its seat belt placement can cause harm upon impact.” Of course, Porsche pushed back and said, “Heck no” and blamed Paul by saying, “The perils, risk, and danger were open and obvious and known to him, and he chose to conduct himself in a manner so as to expose himself to such perils, dangers, and risks, thus assuming the risks involving in using the vehicle.” Like the wrongful death suit against Roger’s estate, this lawsuit, too, reached a settlement. I couldn’t find an amount that this one was settled for, but I didn’t look all too long. I just confirmed they settled, too, for SOMETHING. Along the same lines, Roger Rodas’ widow, Kristine, also tried to sue Porsche, but interestingly, the Judge ruled in favor of Porsche. So, I’m not sure what facts caused the, what appears to be, different outcomes, but nonetheless, kind of an interesting tidbit.
So, as we start to look at the end of this episode, it’s important to me that we look at this situation and take away a few things to learn, so from my seat, there are a few major things to learn here. First, I want to say that he had a rock solid estate plan, didn’t he? The lawsuits that proceeded were not about his estate like his distribution plan or “who” is supposed to be inheriting – which is a COMMON thing we see on these types of episodes because so many celebrities have NO estate plan or a BAD estate plan. Second, because he elected to do a Revocable Trust, many of the details about HOW Meadow inherited … we don’t know. Trusts are settled privately, so long as things go according to plan, so maybe Meadow has her hands on all the money – or not. Maybe she gets it divvied out in certain ages. After all, currently, she’s on 24 – so she’s still young!
A last thing that I want to mention is that Paul appears to have selected some rock solid people for the various roles – granted, it was his parents, Paul III and Cheryl, but there have been stories in the past where parents have taken advantage (or at least that is what the rumors state) … of parents taking advantage of their children’s success and financial success. But anyway, here, Paul’s Dad, Paul III, appears to have done a good job at not only administering Paul’s estate, but also doing it in a clean and timely fashion. He didn’t HAVE to seek recovery from Roger’s estate and/or Porsche, but he tried … and he did. And, Cheryl, Paul’s mother, was appointed as the guardian for Meadow – and I saw something about Cheryl and Meadow’s mother, Rebecca, coming to an agreement on taking care of Meadow (and her inheritance). So, I tell you what – Paul’s parents did a stand-up job in these roles, which is a lesson for us all in picking good, wise options for these various roles in estate plans.
Alrighty, I think we’re ready to 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 go into a story about Beneficiary Designations … gone wrong. Now, we’ve done this kind of topic before, but I KEEP having cautionary tale cases hit my desk, so until it slows down, I guess I should keep talking about this darn topic – that beneficiary designations on assets are SO easy to screw up. That, keeping beneficiary designations up-to-date is an absolutely VITAL part of estate planning. So, let’s talk about it. Tune in for that next week, my friends ,and until then, take care and be well!