Heath Ledger and Estate Planning for Life-Changing Events
By: Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
February 26, 2022
Once you have created a will, it’s easy to forget. And not many of us spend time focusing on what will happen to our worldly possessions when we’re gone. This seems to be what happened to Heath Ledger’s estate in the years before his death.
The famous actor created a will is 2003. In it he specified that his estate of approximately $50 million be split fifty-fifty between his sisters and parents. His daughter Matilda wasn’t born until two years later.
Unfortunately, Ledger never updated his will after this life-changing event. And if it wasn’t for the altruistic decision of his beneficiaries, things could have ended far differently for his “rightful” heir. In Florida, there’s something called the pretermitted spouse statute and pretermitted child statute that will kick in in these situations. This ensures the spouse and/or child is not left out unintentionally. As Heath Ledger’s estate was not in Florida, it wasn’t subject to these statutes.
The Outdated Details of Heath Ledger’s Estate
Heath Ledger had originally named his father, Kim Ledger, executor of his estate. When the details of Ledger’s will initially went public, the late actor’s dad responded with a vague statement. He claimed that his granddaughter would “be taken care of.”
Heath Ledger’s uncles seemed to have been most alarmed by his father’s response. They revealed Kim’s deep mismanagement of Ledger’s estate. And Kim was ultimately removed as executor by court order.
Whether it was public scrutiny, familial threat, or simply a gesture of true altruism, Kim Ledger did ultimately adhere to the wishes of the rest of his family. Fortunately the estate was passed on to his granddaughter.
Ledger’s Inaction Could Have Impacted His Daughter’s Inheritance
Heath Ledger’s daughter was lucky. Her relatives could have chosen to do nothing, as it was within their rights. In that case, Matilda might not have inherited anything at all.
From a legal standpoint, the only way Matilda could have sought her right to Ledger’s estate was by filing a family provision claim. Which would have been difficult seeing as how she was two years old at the time of Ledger’s death.
So, what were the options, you ask? Well, in Florida this kind of scenario can lead to two separate family provision claims:
- Elective Share (or Election Against a Will)
- Family Allowance
Elective Share (or Election Against a Will)
Surviving children have the right to come forward and file a claim on an “elective share” of their late parent’s probate estate. Florida probate law says that share is 30 percent of all assets, including those which are not involved in probate.
The total amount is derived from the final estate value after debts. Administration expenses (like attorney fees, which can be quite costly) are actually not factored in.
Surviving children may also have the right to a sum up to $18,000 before the final distribution of estate assets and to exempt properties prior to paying out creditors’ claims against the estate.
This type of payment is known as a “family allowance.” It is meant to provide support for a decedent’s supported lineal heirs. Sometimes, the estate is even required to pay attorney fees involved in claiming this type of payment.
Luckily for Matilda, there was no need for a challenge like this in her home state, This is because her family ultimately “gifted” the Heath Ledger estate to her.
An Easier Way to Avoid the Pitfalls of an Outdated Will
Options do exist for your rightful heirs to stake a claim on your estate. But the less time-consuming, less costly – and often less stressful – way to avoid the pitfalls of an outdated will is to simply make the proper updates while you’re still here.
Find an experienced estate planning team to guide you through the process of initially drawing up your estate documents, then schedule periodic check-ins.
Many clients of Haimo Law elect to meet with us annually or more often for complex estates. We recommend at least checking in once every three years.
Need help updating your will? Get in touch!
Originally published 10/24/2019. Updated 02/26/2022.
Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
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