The death of talk-show host Larry King and ensuing conflict between his wife and oldest children demonstrates an important lesson in the value of drafting a clear estate plan as early as possible. In the last months of his life, King scribbled a handwritten will, which is now the subject of contestation by his wife Shawn Southwick King.

Most of King’s estimated $144 million net worth is held in trusts. Trusts are a great tool for celebrities and everyday people alike. They are a useful way to pass wealth in a private and efficient manner. (Palmer & Slay PLLC 2021). However, an estimated $2 million of King’s remaining assets are not held in trust, (Palmer & Slay PLLC 2021).

These assets pass to his beneficiaries according to what he wrote in his will. Submitted to the court by his oldest son, King’s handwritten document states:

“This is my Last Will & Testament. It should replace all previous writings. In the event of my death, any day after the above date I want 100% of my funds to be divided equally among my children Andy, Chaia, Lary Jr., Chance, & Cannon.”

Shawn, the contestant of this will, is arguing that the document cannot replace his previously executed 2015 will. The basis of this objection is that King lacked testamentary capacity when he signed.

Testamentary capacity describes the mental ability of the testator, or the person whose will it is, to understand what they are signing. To prove a lack of testamentary capacity, the contestant must prove that the will’s owner was not of “sound mind.” New York Court holds that the testator has testamentary capacity if he or she is at least 18 years old and has interpreted the statutory requirement of “sound mind and memory” to require that the testator knows:

• The natural objects of their bounty and their relations with them;

• Nature and extent of their property; and

• The nature and consequences of executing a will.

If it can be proved successfully that the person in question does not have this capacity, the will can be deemed not valid.

There are various factors to consider when discussing whether Larry King was of sound mind when he wrote and signed his will. The court papers write that, “During the last few years of his life, Larry was highly susceptible to outside influences and at the time he purportedly executed the (handwritten will) was of questionable mental capacity, having recently suffered a stroke and about to undergo a medical procedure (and possibly already under the influence of pre-operative medication).” (USA Today, February 16th and 17th, 2021)

The drama of Larry King’s estate is an important lesson in the value of executing a clear estate plan that reflects your wishes as early as possible. If you’re ready to start a conversation about your own estate planning, let’s talk! Our team is always happy to answer questions or schedule a no-cost consultation. Feel free to reach out via the Contact us form below, email us at info@bischoflegal.com, or call us at 212-867-9120.

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