Mistakes Celebrities Make: The Sad Case of Gary Coleman - New York Estate Planning News

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Mistakes Celebrities Make: The Sad Case of Gary Coleman

Lawyers aren't necessarily good at everything. For example, a criminal lawyer might be able to draft a will, but is it wise?

An article on a blog called Millionaire Corner talks about mistakes celebrities make when drafting wills. One of these mistakes is not using an experienced estate planning attorney.

The article illustrates the case of the late actor Gary Coleman, best known as "Arnold" from the 1980s sitcom "Diff'rent Strokes," who from the looks of it didn't use an attorney at all to draft an amendment to his will, called a codicil.

Coleman, who died in 2010, had one will naming his business manager as his beneficiary and a second, handwritten codicil naming his wife, Shannon Price.

When time came to look at the wills, the probate court didn't know which will to believe. The thing about handwritten wills is that while they might be convenient, they arouse a lot of suspicion. (For New Yorkers, there are very few circumstances under which the law would even allow a handwritten, or "holographic," will.)

And the suspicion in Gary Coleman's case centered on his wife.

First of all, the very existence of their marriage came under fire. Were they even married at the time of Coleman's death?

Then, the validity of the codicil became an issue. Why had Coleman drafted the codicil, especially since he and his wife were married for barely a year?

And when it came time to pull the plug, Price was the one who called the shots and recommended that Coleman be taken off life support. Her authority to pull the plug came into dispute later.

Had Coleman worked with an estate planning attorney, these problems could have been avoided.

Coleman's codicil was invalidated by a court earlier this year, according to Forbes, but his estate left so much drama behind.

Had there been a health care directive in place, there wouldn't be any question as to whether Shannon Price had the authority to pull the plug.

And had his codicil come with explanatory notes, or perhaps some language explaining what to do in the event of divorce, then the bitter dispute could have been avoided.

What's the lesson here? Talk to an estate planner before you amend your will.

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