Hugh O’Brian, the actor and humanitarian best known for his starring role in The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, died in September 2016. In his estate plan, O’Brian named his wife Virginia as trustee of the estate, and beneficiaries included other family members and friends, and a charitable foundation. O’Brian died childless—however, after his death, at least two individuals brought a lawsuit claiming to be O’Brian’s children and seeking a share of his estate.
Each alleged child was born from a different mother, and each claimant presented varying evidence that O’Brian was their biological father. At least two of the claimants are reported to say they were willing to take a DNA test to prove this. One of the claimants attested that O’Brian directed her mother to terminate the pregnancy upon learning of it, and provided money for the procedure.
O’Brian’s alleged children sought to inherit from his estate on the grounds that they were “omitted children,” who are entitled to the same share of the estate that a named child would have received.
Probate Code Section 21622 provides:
“If, at the time of the execution of all of decedent’s testamentary instruments effective at the time of decedent’s death, the decedent failed to provide for a living child solely because the decedent believed the child to be dead or was unaware of the birth of the child, the child shall receive a share in the estate equal in value to that which the child would have received if the decedent had died without having executed any testamentary instruments.”
You have a right to choose your beneficiaries
To summarize the legalese in plainer terms, in order to receive a share of the estate, the claimants must convince a judge that they are in fact the child of the Hugh O’Brian, and that he did not know that he was their father when the trust was executed.
With respect to celebrity estate planning, this clearly was not the first rodeo for the attorney that prepared O’Brian’s trust. According to court documents, the trust prepared by Mr. O’Brian’s listed the names of several persons Mr. O’Brian thought might claim to be his children and he specifically disinherited each of them. The trust stated:
“I have no children, living or deceased. I am intentionally not providing for HUGH DONALD ETKES (also known as HUGH DONALD KRAMPE), ADINA ETKES, JAMES E. VENVERLOH, BETTY DEAN, any of their descendants, and any other person who claims to be a descendant or heir of mine under any circumstances and without regard to the nature of any evidence which may indicate status as a descendant or heir.”
After the courts found in favor of O’Brian’s wife, several of the claimants who were not named in the trust documents appealed the ruling unsuccessfully. Despite challenges that O’Brian lacked testamentary capacity the trust was created, the Court of Appeals upheld that the express language in O’Brian’s trust intentionally disinherited anyone who might claim to be his heir after his death – not just the for persons he specifically named.
The case illustrates how important well-prepared documents are if someone decides to challenge an estate plan. The trust document made clear to whom O’Brian intended to leave his estate, and his wishes remained intact having faced aggressive probate litigation efforts.
Contact a Riverside Wills and Trusts Attorney
If you have additional questions or concerns about planning your estate or perhaps contesting a Will or trust, contact the experienced estate planning lawyers at Sandoval Legacy Group by calling (951) 888-1460 to schedule an appointment.
Have a question? Ask Dennis.
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