It's ironic that the estate of the actor made famous through the movie Easy Rider is proving to be anything but an easy ride. On one side sits Dennis Hopper's fifth wife, Victoria Duffy-Hopper. On the other sit his trustees and children, spearheaded by daughter Marin Hopper. Marin is the oldest daughter and is five years older than her "step-mother". Think there's some bad blood there?
You bet there is. Before Hopper died, he filed for divorce. His wife claimed this move was driven by his children in an effort to cut her out of his estate plan. According to the couple's prenuptial agreement, if they were divorced or no longer living together, then she would not inherit 25% of his estate and life insurance worth $250,000.
At first, it was reported that Duffy-Hopper would argue that they were still living together because the judge in their divorce case permitted her to remain on the same property with him, but in separate houses. That was clearly an uphill battle. It would have been a real stretch to call that "living together."
Now Duffy-Hopper has shifted gears. She recently filed a $45 million claim against Hopper's estate. She feels that she is owed $10 million because defamation for public statements Hopper made during their divorce, $2.26 from lost earnings during the marriage (which she would have made as an actress, she claims), and various other reasons why the Estate owes her big-time.
The Hopper team isn't resting on its laurels either. Hopper's Trust already sued Duffy-Hopper, claiming she stole artwork and other items from Hopper before he died, while he was very ill. The same Trust also tried to evict her from the home she and Hopper once shared in Venice, California.
Apparently to help with that effort, the trustees of that trust are not only trying to sell the Venice compound, but they have slashed the list price, from more than $6.2 million in July, down to $4.8 million. That's a 25% drop in about 3 months.
AOL's HousingWatch.com has an interesting article about the drop in price and how that fits in with the overall estate feud. The article points out that the price reduction is likely motivated to try to force the widow (and her young daughter whom she had with Hopper) out of the home.
The article features a quote by Andrew Mayoras, warning how ugly divorces can turn into heated estate battles when someone dies, emphasizing the need for good estate planning. If Dennis Hopper hadn't altered his estate plan before the divorce was final, his estate would have been even messier.
Many people going through a divorce don't stop to think that they need to update their estate plan before it is too late. You can read our Forbes.com article for Trial & Heirs' Top Five Estate Planning Tips for Divorcees here. There is little doubt that if Duffy-Hopper had been a beneficiary of Hopper's Trust when he died, his children would have been really upset!
Posted by: Andrew W. Mayoras and Danielle B. Mayoras, co-authors of Trial and Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! and co-founders of The Center for Probate Litigation and The Center for Elder Law in metro-Detroit, Michigan, which concentrate in probate litigation, estate planning, and elder law. Andrew and Danielle are husband and wife attorneys, professional speakers and consultants across the country. Follow us on Facebook and Google+.