The wild life and death of Anne Heche
November 1, 2022 | View PDF
Here we go again: another celebrity estate mess.
You have probably heard of Anne Heche. Even I knew who she was, and I don’t follow celebrity gossip or go to the movies that often. But even I have seen “Men in Trees”. And anybody who has been to the movies in the last 20 years has probably seen her on the screen.
And if you don’t remember seeing her on TV or in the movies, you can’t help but have heard about her stormy personal life. She had significant mental health issues, including one very public psychotic break. She dated a number of famous men, including Steve Martin and Lindsey Buckingham, then for a while she was in a relationship with Ellen DeGeneres, and after that was over she went back to dating men.
Her recent death was “over the top” as well. Just a few months ago, she plowed her car into the side of the house, resulting in her death (not to mention destroying the house).
Of course, she didn’t have a will. So now things are getting ugly.
Ms. Heche had two sons, from two different fathers. The older one, named Homer, is 20 years old. The younger one, Atlas, is 13. Homer, who is after all a legal adult, has asked the court to appoint him as the executor, and to let him represent his brother’s interests in court. The father of Atlas, the younger child, wants to represent his son’s interest himself, and he will probably be allowed to do that since he is the surviving parent and Atlas is a minor.
The father argues that Homer lacks the maturity to be the executor of what is, no doubt, going to be a very large estate, and that Homer doesn’t have the money to post a surety bond, which is normally a requirement if it isn’t waived by the will. Homer is accusing Atlas’ father of sending text messages in which he pretends to be Atlas, says he is “aggressive and manipulative” and that he is afraid of being alone with him. All of this is playing out in public, because a probate case is public record.
This isn’t terribly surprising. The most common dynamic for probate conflict is when the second wife or husband is fighting with the children from the first marriage. That happens a lot in probate court.
So there could be a lot of mischief and conflict between now, and the ultimate distribution of the estate. When I first heard about this, my assumption was that at least the final division, though, would be fairly simple. Anne Heche was a single individual with two children, and in any U.S. state, that means the estate will be divided equally between her kids.
But not so fast! Atlas’ father has presented a will. Well, not exactly a will. There is an e-mail which Anne apparently sent to him 11 years ago, which he wants the court to accept as a will. I very much doubt that is going to work, since it is not signed. But who knows, this is all going to be happening in California, where the official state anthem is the theme from Looney Tunes, so anything can happen.
All of this could have been so easily avoided. All Anne Heche needed to do was sign a simple will. A living trust would have been better, but even a will would have accomplished several things, including saying who the executor should be, waiving the requirement of an expensive surety bond, and clarifying when her sons would get the money. Did I mention that, once this is over, Homer will receive his inheritance right away, and Atlas will get his money on his 18th birthday?
Unfortunately, despite all of her accomplishments as an actress, Anne Heche’s loved ones will have to endure this as her final legacy. She now joins the Intestacy Hall of Shame alongside Prince, Aretha Franklin and more than a few others.
And, perhaps, you?
Kenneth Kirk is an Anchorage estate planning lawyer. Nothing in this article should be taken as legal advice for a specific situation; for specific advice you should consult a professional who can take all the facts into account. What, you didn’t see ‘Men in Trees’? It was set in Alaska, for Pete’s sake, you were supposed to watch it. No wonder it got canceled.