If you live in the DMV area and are trying to avoid creating a major headache for your family/friends after your death, pay attention to the case I am about to outline. It bluntly shows the importance of attending an estate planning session at JDKatz as soon as possible.
In a potentially damaging move during a likely Oscar-winning year for Julia Roberts, her half-sister, Nancy Motes, committed suicide this past week.
Roberts is up for Best Supporting Actress for “August: Osage County.” On the other hand, Nancy, who complained that she could not compete with her skinny and more talented sister, was an aspiring actress who had most recently worked as a production assistant on Glee.
Three pages of Motes’ suicide note ranted about how she despised her sister. In the rest of the note, she apologized for her act and told her fiancé, John Dilbeck, and her mother how much she loved them.
California law states that the Los Angeles County Coroner can only give the suicide note’s pages to the respective person to whom the decedent addresses and them alone. So, Dilbeck and the public may never see the remainder of the note since Roberts’ family does not have to show it to anyone.
Dilbeck’s brother states that Motes “was driven to Take her Life yesterday because of the Pure Cruelty of her Sister, Julia Roberts, that has done everything in her power to Ruin her and my brothers lives.” He further claims that Motes’ suicide letter was a desperate attempt to expose Roberts’ alleged mistreatment.
Motes often publicized her broken relationship with Roberts. Many family problems stemmed from Roberts’ bashing of Motes’ weight and her relationship with Dilbeck and from Roberts not allowing Motes to visit their ill mother earlier this year.
Getting back on topic, the issue at hand is that Motes never made a formal will before her death. Motes explained in her last note how she wanted her possessions divided; however, it is not clear whether the court will divvy her possessions how she asked. Going to a probate court in any state can be a headache since the court then has to decide how to transfer the property to the right heirs and beneficiaries, analyze if a will is valid, and to take care of the decedent’s financial responsibilities.
Since Motes was a California resident, the States’ probate laws dictate. Here, a case can take anywhere from nine to twelve months with the court assessing extra fees to finalize the estate.
Sources say that Dilbeck will assert his right to be the beneficiary of his fiancé’s estate. He will use his years together with Motes as the main reason why he should receive to all of her possessions.
Potential items in Motes’ possession could include gifts from Roberts, photos, and a diary that contained Motes’ feelings for her sister. Roberts believes that Dilbeck is trying to make a profit by selling these items to the highest bidder, while also maiming her reputation at the same time.
“If Nancy had photos and wrote a diary, describing her feelings towards her sister, he could use them,” the source said. “There is a fear that John could be holding Nancy’s personal items hostage and possibly sell them to the highest bidder.
What will happen if both Roberts and Dilbeck lay claim to Motes’ estate?
As mentioned before, the decedent will often draft a will to show who will inherit her belongings upon her death and who will assume responsibility for ensuring someone carries out her wishes properly. In the off-chance that a decedent has not left a will, California probate law governs how the State divides possessions amongst the successors. All of the decedent’s possessions are what form an estate.
California is a communal property state, which means that married spouses both keep an equal but undivided claim to shared property. However, Dilbeck and Motes were never married, so the belongings will not pass on so easily to him.
Since Motes did not have a will, she died intestate. The State’s law dictates that the first in line for the estate is a surviving spouse, who would own the entire estate. If there is no surviving spouse, the estate then passes to any biological or adopted children, and they would split the estate evenly among themselves. Cal. Prob. Code §§ 100 – 102(b) (LexisNexis 2008).
If there are no surviving spouses or children, then the deceased’s parents will receive the estate, equally split between them, and if there are no surviving parents, then the surviving grandparents will equally split the remainder of the estate. If after this line of succession there are no remaining persons, then the State will divvy up the estate amongst any great-grandparents, then siblings and then more distant relatives, including cousins. Cal. Prob. Code §§ 6401 – 02 (LexisNexis 2008).
In California, “half” relatives inherit as if they were “whole.” That is, your sister with whom you share a father, but not a mother, has the same right to your property as she would if you had both parents in common. Cal. Prob. Code §§ 6401 – 02 (LexisNexis 2008); Cal. Fam. Code § 2550 (LexisNexis 2009).
NOLO’s Legal Encyclopedia also has a useful visualization of intestate succession in the state of California.
When applying this law to Motes’ case, it is likely that the estate will rightfully pass to Motes and Roberts’ mother, Betty Lou, since Motes was not married nor had any children.
However, Dilbeck may have a counterargument since there is no need for a probate court if the estate’s total is worth less than $100,000. An estate’s total does not include the following items:
- Joint tenancy property (real or personal);
- Community property with right of survivorship;
- Half of all other community property;
- Life insurance and death benefits (assuming that beneficiaries are named);
- Real property outside of California;
- Any motor vehicles.
- Multiple party accounts.
The financial status of the estate is not clear, so Dilbeck may still have to go to court if he cannot prove that the estate’s total is less than the $100,000 threshold. To keep her Pretty Woman image intact and Oscar-winning dream alive, Julia Roberts will also probably be headed to probate court to ask the court to hand over the estate to Motes and Roberts’ mother: potentially concealing any revealing information about Roberts.
The point of all this is that each state has different estate laws, and a lack of preparation causes many expensive and unnecessary fights like these everyday. If you live in Washington, DC; Maryland; or Virginia and are uncertain about the status of your estate, please do not hesitate to visit the law offices of JDKatz.
Not convinced? Our post on the battle over Michael Jackson’s estate should also be further reason to realize the importance of having a thorough estate plan.
JDKatz, P.C. is a full-service law firm focused on tax law, business and transactional law, estate planning and elder law. We are dedicated to minimizing your existing liability and risks while providing valuable tax planning to streamline your tax issues in the future. Please call us at 301-913-2948 to schedule an appointment to meet with one of our trusted attorneys, or visit http://www.jdkatz.com.