As the movie, American Sniper, enjoys box office success, questions and controversies surround the estate of Chris Kyle. One of his biggest critics is Jesse Ventura, the always-outspoken former professional wrestler and potential presidential candidate. Ventura recently explained in an interview with Howard Stern on SiriusXM that "Chris Kyle is not a hero. A hero must have an honor, and a liar has no honor." Ventura feels that Kyle had a talent for shooting straight, but was merely doing his job and does not deserve hero status.
Jesse Ventura has not been the only one to question the hero label placed on Chris Kyle. Bill Maher, Seth Rogan, Michael Moore and others have also made comments questioning the glorification of Chris Kyle in the movie, while Howard Stern, Sarah Palin, Rupert Murdoch and others have defended his hero status. Ventura, however, has been the most vocal about the topic -- perhaps because his view of Chris Kyle is personal.
Tragically, Chris Kyle was murdered before the case went to trial. Yet the case still went before a jury, pitting Ventura against Kyle's widow, Taya Kyle, who was the executrix of Chris Kyle's estate. Ventura won the case in resounding fashion, with a verdict for more than $1.8 million. The case is now on appeal. Because of the important First Amendment rights that the case involves, many media organizations have joined the side of Kyle’s estate, arguing that the large verdict should be overturned.
The Ventura lawsuit is not the only cloud of controversy hovering over Chris Kyle’s estate. The Hollywood Reporter recently featured a detailed story discussing Kyle’s wishes about who should share in the profits from the American Sniper book and movie. Those profits have been estimated to be more than six million dollars for the Chris Kyle estate, so far.
This report was based on another court filing, this time one started by Chris Kyle's widow, Taya. She had sued an attorney and others who helped Chris and Taya Kyle enter into the lucrative book deal that led to the popular movie. The lawsuit was based, in part, on a claim that the attorney told people that Chris Kyle had wanted all proceeds from the book and movie to go to the families of two fallen comrades of his who died in Iraq. Taya Kyle ultimately dropped the lawsuit and gave up her claim to a share of a business that was formed by her husband and investors, but she kept the lucrative right to market her late husband's name and image.
Taya Kyle vehemently disagreed with the statements by the attorney about her late husband's wishes. She said an adviser had prepared a document for Chris Kyle that specified how he wanted his share of the movie and book deal proceeds to pass in the event of his death. Taya said she followed the document, and in doing so, honored her husband's true wishes.
Because of that, the two families of Chris Kyle's former Navy SEAL comrades haven't received a cent since Kyle's death. The mother of one of the fallen soldiers -- whom Kyle described in his memoir as being like a surrogate mother to members of his platoon -- said she was in tears and speechless when she learned the families had been cutoff after Kyle's death. When Chris Kyle was alive, he gave his share of the proceeds from his book to the two families, along with a charity for veterans.
Based on public statements he made, it certainly seems like Kyle would have wanted the families of his fallen friends to continue to receive some of the profits that are flowing in from the success of the movie. But, when Kyle verbally expressed those wishes, it was before his wife and child lost him. Wanting to be generous to family members of his platoon-mates is one thing, but presumably Kyle would have also wanted his own widow and child to be financially protected too.
Whatever Chris Kyle would have intended, Taya Kyle has kept all of the profits that have flowed into the Chris Kyle estate so far. And that is her prerogative. Why? Chris Kyle never created a will.
Despite bringing in millions of dollars, and his publicly-stated wishes to share the profits with others, Kyle left his loved ones and comrades dangling in the breeze by never reducing his final wishes in writing through an estate plan. He should have created a revocable living trust, or at least a basic will. Doing so would have insured his wishes were followed and saved his family -- not to mention the families of his friends -- from this latest controversy.
It's too bad that Chris Kyle left his family in this position by not creating a will. No matter which side of the "Was he a hero?" debate you fall on, there can be no doubt that failing to create a will to protect those you leave behind isn't very heroic.
Perhaps others -- especially military men and women who face the grim prospect of death on a regular basis -- can learn from this lesson and prepare a will to protect their loved ones.
Danielle and Andy Mayoras are co-authors of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! and attorneys with the Michigan law firm, Barron, Rosenberg, Mayoras & Mayoras, P.C. Click here to subscribe to their e-newsletter, The Trial & Heirs Update and learn more about their book. You can reach them at Contact@TrialAndHeirs.com.