Kentucky Bankruptcy Law

Counsel with Care

No (financial) worries for Heath Ledger’s child

A story out today revealed that Heath Ledger’s minor daughter, Matilda Rose, was not included in his last will and testament. The will was drawn up before Heath had any children and left everything to his parents and three sisters (Herald-Leader story from March 11, 2008 on page A2). Heath’s immediate family issued assurances that Matilda Rose would be provided for. If I were advising Matilda Rose or her mother, I would express my appreciation, but I would point out that many states have statutes (and common law) covering “pretermitted heirs”. A pretermitted heir is a child who was accidentally or inadvertently omitted from a will. That describes Matilda Rose. I have not looked up the statute or common law in New York where Heath’s will would be probated, but it most likely has such a provision protecting pretermitted heirs. Therefore, I would insist that she receive the inheritance due to her. In many states with there being only one child, that may be the entire rest and residue of the estate (roughtly everything except for specific gifts to particular persons). Hopefully, Matilda Rose’s mom, Michelle Williams, will obtain legal counsel that will point this out to her.

If I had been advising Heath Ledger, I would have talked to him about having a will that covered many contingencies. One of those contingencies would have been the likelihood of having children and how he wished they were to be treated. Generally, even if a person has no children, it is wise to draft the will as though he or she would have them before they die. This would even be true for elderly persons because of the possibility of adopting a child. One can disinherit their children or a specific child, but to do so requires a provision drafted to address this particular wish rather than silence. It is important to carefully approach such an action and never disinherit a child lighlty because of both the moral consequences of such an action and because of the possibility of a court reforming the will under a few different doctrines.

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March 11, 2008 - Posted by | Estate Planning, Family Law | , , , , , ,

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