ANNE HECHE DIES WITH CONFLICT AROUND HER WILL, LEAVING HER SONS & ESTATE IN LEGAL LIMBO—PART 1
Actress Anne Heche died this August following a tragic car accident in which she plowed her vehicle into a West Los Angeles home, where it burst into flames. After being pulled from the wreckage, the Emmy Award-winning actress was hospitalized in critical condition, suffering from severe burns and smoke inhalation.
The fiery accident left Heche brain dead and comatose, but she was kept on life support for seven days in order to identify a suitable recipient for her organs, which was in line with the actress’ wishes, according to a statement from her publicist. After a successful match with organ donors, Heche was removed from life support on August 14th, and she died shortly thereafter. She was 53 years old.
Heche is survived by two young sons. Her eldest, Homer Heche Laffoon, is 20 years old, and is from her marriage with ex-husband Coleman Laffoon. Her youngest son, Atlas Heche Tupper, is 13, and his father is Canadian actor James Tupper, with whom Heche had a 10-year relationship following her divorce from Laffoon. Heche is also survived by her mother, Nancy Heche.
According to a court petition filed by her eldest son Homer on August 31st, Heche died without a will, and Homer requested that he be named executor of his late mother’s estate. However, on September 15th, Heche’s ex-boyfriend James Tupper filed a probate petition objecting to Homer’s bid, claiming that Heche e-mailed him a copy of her will in 2011, leaving him (Tupper) in charge of her estate.
In a report by Rolling Stone, Tupper says Heche nominated him to handle her affairs, allegedly stating in her e-mail, “My wishes are that all of my assets go to the control of Mr. James Tupper to be used to raise my children and then given to the children.”
Tupper requested that the court honor Heche’s final wishes and deny Homer’s petition, which he alleges incorrectly claimed she died intestate, the legal term for when someone dies without a will. In Tupper’s petition, he questioned both Homer’s ability to carry out the executor role and his motives, noting that “Homer is only 20 years of age and is unemployed, and was estranged from [Heche] at the time of her death.”
While we can't know for certain whether or not Anne Heche had a will or if the will Tupper describes is valid, given that there is so much confusion surrounding her will, the late actress most likely didn’t have any trusts set up either. Her failure to plan is likely to create a number of major problems for her two sons and other surviving loved ones.
With this in mind, in this series of articles we’ll discuss Heche’s estate planning mistakes and how those errors will likely impact her family and assets. From there, we’ll outline what you can learn from this tragic situation and the steps you can take to make certain that your loved ones never need to endure a similar situation.
PROBATE: A NEEDLESS ORDEAL & EXPENSE
If you die without a will, or with uncertainty around your will, as Heche did—and even if your estate plan includes a will alone—you are guaranteeing your family will have to deal with the court process of probate upon your death or incapacity. Like all court proceedings, probate can be long, costly, and traumatic for your surviving loved ones.
Until Heche’s estate completes the probate process, her assets will be mostly inaccessible to her heirs. As a result, her sons, Homer and Atlas, could be left without any financial support from their late mother for quite a significant amount of time.
It will likely take many months just to locate all of Heche’s assets, and it’s likely some of those assets will get overlooked—and some may never be found. All told, there is approximately $58 billion in unclaimed property across the United States, and this is exactly how a great deal of it ends up lost.
To ensure all of her assets are located and accounted for, Heche could have had a relationship with a lawyer who, ideally, would have created (and maintained) an inventory of her assets. Such an inventory not only makes creating your estate plan much easier, but most importantly, it allows your loved ones to know what you have, where it is, and how to access it if something happens to you.
As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we will not only help you create a comprehensive asset inventory, we’ll make sure it stays regularly updated throughout your lifetime. Schedule a meeting with us, your Personal Family Lawyer® to review what you have, and what will happen to what you have, if and when something happens to you, so you can choose an estate planning structure that keeps your family out of court and conflict.
A LONG, EXPENSIVE, & PUBLIC PROCESS
What we know so far is that Heche didn’t seem to have a lawyer who created an inventory of her assets, or to make sure her surviving family would stay out of court, or even out of conflict. As a result, her estate is likely to be stuck in probate for at least a year or more. That assumes everything goes smoothly and there are no serious conflicts or disputes among Heche’s potential heirs or creditors, which is common following celebrity death—and as we are