What would it be like to grow up in a 123-room mansion in a swanky Los Angeles suburb, rubbing elbows with celebrities, and buying anything you want? Sounds pretty great -- unless it was all taken away from you as an adult. As Tori Spelling wrote in her autobiography, it's not easy going from having a silver spoon in your mouth to a plastic one.
This is installment #13 of our Estate Planning Lessons From The Stars series, which is based on the Celebrity Legacies TV show for which we provide commentary as the estate legal experts. See other articles in the series here.
Aaron Spelling was one of the most successful television producers ever, masterminding such hits such as Charlie's Angles, Beverly Hills 90210, Dynasty, and The Love Boat. When Spelling died after a severe stroke in 2006, at 83 years old, he left behind a fortune worth an estimated $500 million at the time. He owned the largest house in all of Los Angeles County. The home, known as the Spelling Manor, was where Aaron and his second wife, Candy, moved in the late 1980's with their children, teenage daughter Tori and son Randy.
Randy Spelling explained in a recent interview how amazing it was to live in the mansion, complete with a bowling alley, screening room, an ice rink, and three separate rooms just for wrapping presents. He described how it was like living in a fantasy, but it left him unprepared for life as an adult when he didn't have the same financial support after his father died. Randy said that, as a result, "I had my wings burned a little bit" before adjusting to living a normal life as an adult, in a modest home that was far different from the mansion he grew up in.
The change in lifestyle hit Tori Spelling even harder. She almost went bankrupt and discussed on her reality TV show how she and her husband couldn't afford to pay for his vasectomy. But Tori says the experience made her stronger, teaching her to stand on her own feet.
So why did Randy and Tori Spelling have such financial struggles after their father died? Despite passing away with a fortune estimated in the half-billion dollar range, Aaron Spelling reportedly left about $800,000 to each of his children. That's less .2 percent of the family fortune each! The bulk of the estate went to their mother, Candy, but even non-family members were included in the estate plan, with $50,000 going to an interior decorator and $25,000 to a manicurist.
Complicating the matter was the fact that Tori and Candy were estranged and did not speak for years. Recently, with the birth of her four children, Tori and her mother have reconciled to a point, and Candy has set up trust funds for her grandchildren. Yet, even in recent interviews, Tori and Candy admit that they are not close.
Reportedly, Aaron's Spelling estate plan was changed just two months before he died, which is interesting because Alzheimer's disease was listed as a contributing factor on his death certificate. Tori Spelling said that she met with her father before he died, and he sincerely believed that $800,000 was enough for Tori to be "set for life." She feels her father didn't appreciate the value of money, even though he had so much of it.
Despite the small inheritances left to Tori and Randy, in comparison to the size of Spelling's estate, neither Tori nor Randy filed a court action to contest the will or trust after Aaron Spelling died. Reportedly, the estate planning documents included a "no contest" clause. A no contest clause penalizes heirs who challenge wills and trusts in court, potentially causing them to lose their entire inheritances. This is an estate planning tool that most experienced attorneys will use to help dissuade will and trust challenges, but it only works in certain circumstances.
Instead of fighting in court, Tori and Randy have both said they were forced to learn how to pay their own way and adapt to a much more modest lifestyle than they previously enjoyed. Will that change when their mother, Candy, passes away? That remains to be seen. It's possible it won't, based on Candy's recent comments that Tori received only a small percentage of the estate because her spending habits were out-of-control.
It is unusual that Aaron Spelling left so much authority and control to his wife, especially given the estrangement between she and Tori. Aaron named Candy as the sole trustee of his trust, which is not common with such a large fortune, as well as being the primary beneficiary. Still, Aaron's plan certainly worked in a key respect -- it did not result in an inheritance battle in court, which occurs much more often than most people realize to families of varying levels of wealth. With $500 million to fight over, it's a credit to him that one didn't happen.
That's why working with experienced estate planning attorneys is so critical. Knowing when to use key language, like a no contest clause, and how to appropriately document someone's wishes, can often avoid an estate war that leads to nothing but grief, wasted money, and heartache.
The fact that Aaron Spelling's family didn't go through one left the possibility open for a reconciliation down the line, which has happened, at least to an extent. Families torn apart in estate battles are almost never able to reunite. Candy, Randy, and Tori Spelling should be commended for not going down that road.
Celebrity Legacies is a documentary series airing on the Reelz cable channel featuring Danielle and Andy Mayoras and other experts. The popular TV show explores the lives, legacies, and estates of a different celebrity each episode. Click here for upcoming show times.
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.