In our previous post, we began looking at a legal dispute over the estate of deceased actor Gary Coleman. As we noted last time, Coleman’s ex-wife and an ex-girlfriend are both laying claim to his estate. The size of Coleman’s estate is unknown, though court documents reportedly list a $324,000 house and a pension. Price’s attorney has said that the suit is more over future rights to Coleman’s name and brand than his current assets.
An important point to make about this case is that estate plans should be updated at major points in one’s life. Divorce, marriage, birth, remarriage and other such events are all good times to update one’s will. Any life event which changes the circumstances impacting one’s estate is a good time to review one’s estate plan.
In terms of how to change one’s will, it is important that one clearly revoke one’s old will. This is typically done by writing a statement in the new will stating that one revokes all previous wills and codicils, and by destroying any previous wills to avoid confusion and challenges down the road. One may also simply add a codicil, or amendment to one’s old will, which will revoke part of the old one or add a new provision. Codicils must be dated, signed and witnessed in the same way a will must be. While valid, codicils are less preferable than new wills, since they can cause confusion, be lost and be used to initiate will contests.
Another point to make is that under New Jersey law, a holographic will like the one authored by Coleman-one that is entirely handwritten and signed by the “testator”-is considered valid, even if it is not signed by witnesses, provided the signature and the material provisions are in the handwriting of the testator. Still, holographic wills are not to be preferred to wills which have been formally written up, witnessed and signed, since this will prevent the possibility of an estate challenge down the road.
Source: ABC News, “2 Women Battle Over Gary Coleman Estate,” May 7, 2012.