What We Can Learn from Gary Coleman’s Messy Estate

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What We Can Learn from Gary Coleman’s Messy Estate

When former child actor, Gary Coleman, died in 2010, there was controversy about both the use of his medical directive by his ex-wife and about the validity of a codicil (amendment) he made to his Will, naming his ex-wife as the beneficiary.

Gary Coleman's messy estate

Coleman married in August 2007 but was divorced within a year. However, when he died in 2010, the hospital where he was receiving care honored a health care directive he signed during his marriage, naming his then-spouse as his agent. While the two had been co-habitating after the marriage, it’s unclear whether he still wanted her to be able to make medical decisions on his behalf. According to Utah law (where Coleman’s death occurred), the directive should not have been honored without an explicit affirmation by Coleman after the divorce. Of course, it’s simply not practical to think that a hospital or other medical facility would verify whether a named agent, identified as a spouse, was still married to the patient.

There was also controversy about how Coleman’s assets should pass. Before marrying, Coleman executed a Will naming a friend as his executor and beneficiary. After getting married, he created a codicil to the Will, naming his then-wife as executor and beneficiary. While that codicil was executed in accordance with Utah law, Utah – like California and many other states – provides that a former spouse’s rights end upon divorce unless those rights are specifically affirmed in the divorce decree or otherwise after the divorce. In the end, the codicil was nullified and the original Will was upheld.

If you have been through a divorce, chances are high that your wishes have changed. Most divorced couples do not want their former spouse to be able to act under advance medical directives, financial powers of attorney, or as the executors of their estates. Working with an experienced estate planning attorney can help legally document your changed wishes so they will be honored.

Estate planning helps you manage and secure your assets while you are alive. Careful planning can save money on court costs and reduce the anxiety surrounding your estate so that you can enjoy your life and focus on your family. Contact us today to learn more!