From the desk of Darlynn Morgan, OC Probate Lawyer

For those of you following Gary Coleman’s death and subsequent will fiasco, it appears as though Coleman’s ex-wife, former manager (who is the original beneficiary of his 1999 will), and his parents are gearing up for a nasty and expensive battle in Utah probate court.

Of course there are a number of reasons for this, but essentially, Gary Coleman did not have the proper estate planning documents in place following his divorce in 2008.  Consequently, his end-of-life wishes were not clearly known at the time of his passing and now a judge will have to decide who gets his pension and remaining assets as a result.

The story breaks down like this:

  • 1999-  Coleman had a will drafted leaving his assets to his friend and former manager should something happen to him.
  • 2007- Coleman marries then 21-year-old Shannon Price and files a handwritten amendment known as a Codicil leaving all of his assets to her should he die.
  • 2008- Gary Coleman and Shannon Price divorce.
  • 2008- Gary Coleman and Shannon Price reconcile.
  • 2009- Shannon Price arrested for domestic violence against Coleman
  • 2010- Gary Coleman suffers brain hemorrhage after a fall in his home (which some mistrusting fans still believe his ex-wife had something to do with).
  • 2010- His ex-wife (who claimed to be his wife at the hospital) made the decision to pull the plug, resulting in Coleman’s death at age 42.

Of course as this story unfolded, many people were outraged that Coleman’s ex-wife had the right to pull the plug or make medical decisions for Gary Coleman in the first place. However, she did have the legal ability to do this under Utah common law, and Coleman simply didn’t have health care directives in place stating otherwise.

The same holds true with Coleman’s assets. Because Gary did not have documentation in place stating that he wanted or did NOT want his ex-wife to still receive his assets following their divorce, all parties involved are now headed to court to fight for his estate.

However, the attorney who helped Gary file the codicil in 2007 believes Shannon Price won’t receive his assets anyway because the couple is divorced and under Utah law, the original 1999 will (leaving everything to ex manager Dion Mial) still stands.

Would Coleman have wanted that? Was he even in contact with his ex-manager at the time of his death? Again, we’ll never know because he did not take the time to put his wishes in writing.

So the moral of the story is this: Gary Coleman should have updated his will following his divorce so everyone would be clear on his wishes if, and when, something happened to him. Who knows, maybe he DID want his ex-wife to get everything he had, but because of his failure to consult with a lawyer after such a major life change, she may now lose out under Utah law.

So as an OC probate attorney, I can’t stress enough the need to update your estate planning documents after every major life change you experience such as a marriage, divorce or birth of a child.

If you don’t, someone you would never want to make important decisions on your behalf or receive your entire inheritance may end up doing so because of negligence on your part.

And of course if you have gone through a divorce and now need your estate planning documents updated, we offer complimentary “divorce wills” and Family Wealth Planning Sessions ($750 value) that you can take advantage of simply by calling our OC probate law firm at 949-260-1400 . However, these sessions are limited to 10 a month so schedule your appointment right away!