Celebrity heirs fighting over the estate is far from uncommon … the Trial & Heirs Blog never has a shortage of material to cover. But, it is unusual when an ugly court battle starts before the celebrity dies and then only continues to grow more heated as time passes. That certainly has been the case with the Dennis Hopper Estate.
The Easy Rider star filed for divorce from his fifth wife, Victoria Duffy-Hopper, in January, 2010. Victoria is about six years younger than Dennis’ oldest child, daughter Marin Hopper. The two have been feuding for some time now.
As explained in this prior Dennis Hopper article from Trial & Heirs, Victoria claims that Dennis’ children put him up to the divorce, manipulated him, and that he didn’t really want to divorce her. These claims were a bit at odds with other allegations she made in her lawsuits, including that Dennis Hopper was abusive and controlling of her during their marriage. So were they happily married or not?
There is substantial motivation for Victoria to claim that they were still a happy couple and the divorce wasn’t what he really wanted. Under the couple’s prenuptial agreement, if they were married and living together at the time that Dennis died, she would inherit at least 25% of his assets, plus some life insurance money. In total, it is estimated that she would have received more than $6 million. If they weren’t living together as a happy couple when Dennis died, then the inheritance would be slashed down to very little.
Of course, Victoria says they were still together and Dennis didn’t really want the divorce. She recently has gone so far as to claim that the “sleeping arrangements at the residence never changed as a result of any discord, separation or disagreement between her and Dennis.” In other words, they were still — apparently — sharing the same marital relations both before and after the divorce.
On the other side, the three Trustees of Dennis Hopper’s Trust — which control his assets and are battling against Victoria in three different but related lawsuits — think this position is, well, less than honest. These Trustees, one of which is Dennis’ daughter Marin, want to prove it.
How? For starters, they want to take the deposition of a man named James Cannon Boyce. Who’s he? According to the three Trustees, he was the man with whom Victoria was having an affair during the marriage with Dennis. That’s right, during the same time that Victoria claims she and Dennis were still enjoying the same sleeping arrangements.
Victoria and her legal team are determined to prevent a deposition of Boyce if they can. They’ve filed a request with the Judge to prevent the Trustees’ attorneys from questioning him under oath (which is what happens during a deposition). What do they have to hide? We’re sure the Trustees and their attorneys want to find out that exact question.
The Judge is set to rule on the deposition request on July 12th. This will be one of many court hearings leading up to the main event, if this case does make it to trial. Most cases settle out of court, before trial, but with emotions this heated, don’t be surprised if this case makes it the distance.
If so, what new twists and turns are yet to come?
What’s the lesson from all this fighting? While good estate planning can never entirely eliminate the chances of a family fight, it certainly helps. A good revocable living trust is essential for any second-marriage (or fifth-marriage) family where the spouse and children from a prior marriage do not get along well.
Dennis Hopper not only had a trust, he updated it after the relationship between he and Victoria soured (unless, of course, you believe Victoria who says the documents were only changed as an effort by Dennis’ kids to cut her inheritance). Had he not done so, Victoria would have gotten a big share of his Estate and his children would have lost out.
That’s why Victoria is fighting so hard now to undermine the updated documents that Dennis put in place. But, that’s certainly better than the alternative, if he hadn’t done the proper estate planning in time.
By Andy and Danielle Mayoras, co-authors of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights!, husband-and-wife legacy expert attorneys, and hosts of an upcoming national PBS special. The charismatic duo has appeared on the Rachael Ray Show, Forbes, ABC's Live Well Network, WGN-TV and has lent their expertise and analysis to hundreds of media sources. As dynamic keynote speakers, Danielle and Andy delight audiences nationwide with highly entertaining and informative presentations, dishing the dirt on celebrity estate battles while dispensing important legal information.
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