Legendary journalist and radio host Larry King passed away on January 23, 2021 at the age of 87 after his hospitalization in December for COVID-19. According to his seventh wife, Shawn Southwick King, he ultimately succumbed to a sepsis infection after surviving the coronavirus.
King wrote his will on October 17, 2019, two months after filing for divorce against Southwick King and it reads as follows:
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, Larry Jr., Chance & Cannon.
Despite many news outlets reporting King left his “entire fortune”, his “$50 million fortune”, or his estate to his children, that is not quite accurate. Pointedly, his handwritten (or, holographic, in legal terms) will specifically references “100% of my funds” to be equally divided among his children, not the entirety of his estate. In common parlance, funds means “money that is readily available”, which is distinct from other forms of assets such as personal property, real estate, securities, or intellectual property.
As such, it remains to be seen how the court will treat that language and whether any of his other assets are implicated. It is reported that a significant portion of his property is held in trusts (i.e., to be distributed outside his estate) and that his estate is worth approximately $2 million. Any assets owned by him at his death that were not held in trust and do not constitute “funds” will pass via the intestacy statutes of California, his state of residence at death. Intestacy statutes dictate how an estate is divided in the absence of a will. Stated differently, the difference of a single word (“assets” instead of “funds”) would have avoided this circumstance and King would have been wise to consult a lawyer when devising his estate.
Further complicating matters, two of his five children died within a month of each other (Andy, 69, from a heart attack and Chaia, 51, from lung cancer) and after he penned the will. Because they predeceased him, those bequests lapsed, meaning their shares would normally be divided among the three surviving children. However, California has an anti-lapse statute which provides the deceased-children’s shares will go to their own children, or King’s grandchildren.
Despite executing the will two months after filing for divorce (which would normally operate disinherit her), Southwick King announced her intention to contest the will claiming an unnamed individual exerted influence over King. If she can prove his handwritten will was the product of undue influence, King’s earlier will may be honored instead.
For information regarding the requirements for creating a valid holographic (i.e., handwritten) will, please click here for a previous blog article on the subject.
If you find yourself the unfortunate experience of contesting a will or the disposition of an estate, please call us at (704) 457-1010 to discuss how we can help you. For more information regarding our firm, attorneys, and practice areas, please visit our website at LINDLEY LAW.