The recent legal battles between the ailing Dennis Hopper and his wife in divorce court have been well-documented. Here are the Probate Lawyer Blog's articles covering the case, including the Top Ten most hurtful allegations lobbed back and forth (a serious must-read!).
Now that Hopper has passed on due to his prostate cancer, on May 29th, at age 74, TMZ.com is reporting that his widow is already gearing up to challenge his estate in probate court. Victoria Duffy-Hopper claimed that Hopper's divorce filing was motivated by an effort to cut her out of his estate plan.
Reportedly, the couple's prenuptial agreement calls for her to get 25% of his estate and $250,000 in life insurance proceeds, as long as they were both married and living together. Because the divorce was not finalized when he died, they were still married (even though they were separated). But, were they living together?
Duffy-Hopper (according to TMZ) is prepared to challenge the prenup in probate court and will argue they were "living together" because she lived in a house on his property (separate from his house though).
Rest assured that this battle, and many others, will keep some probate judge in California very busy in the months (and possibly years) to come. Based on past arguments in the case, we expect that Duffy-Hopper will also claim that Dennis Hopper never really intended to end the marriage, but was being controlled by his children who orchestrated the divorce as a way to cut her out of his estate.
While this case certainly has some unusual elements, estate fights sparked by the death of a loved one in a second marriage situation (or fifth marriage in this case), are very common. Who gets to inherit between the adult children of the first marriage and the spouse who came later? It all depends on the will, trust, and how the various assets and investments are held.
In these types of marriages, having an air-tight estate plan is extra important, or fighting will be the norm, not the exception.
Don't let this happen to your loved ones who are in multiple-marriage families. Urge them to get their affairs in order, with the help of a good estate planning lawyer who knows how to help prevent family feuds like this one.
[June 2 updated -- ABCNews.com featured a story on the upcoming Dennis Hopper Estate battle, in which we were both quoted giving our views on the case]
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 Google+