All life’s journeys and stories eventually end, even iconic novels

The Hunt for Tom Clancy’s Estate Comes to an End

Popular author Tom Clancy wrote many iconic novels, and the story of his estate battle sounds like it comes straight out of a book. The author, who died at the age of 66 of heart failure, left an estate valued at $82 million. This $82 million estate includes an ownership interest in the Baltimore Orioles baseball team worth $65 million, a working World War II tank, a mansion on Chesapeake Bay and over $10 million in business interests from his novels and movie adaptations.

According to the original will, Clancy left his Chesapeake Bay home and other properties, along with any of his joint bank or investment accounts to his wife Alexandra. Clancy also left a portion of the residue of the estate to the Hopkin’s Wilmer Eye Institute, which he had previously given a $2 million donation in 2005. The rest of his estate was to be divided between a series of trusts. The 2007 will originally provided for three trusts and divided the rest of the estate as follows: one-third for Alexandra, one third for Alexandra to use while she was alive and then passing to their daughter, and one-third to be divided among his four children from his previous marriage.

The issue surrounding Clancy’s estate centers on an amendment that he signed weeks before his death in 2013. The pertinent part of the amendment provides “No asset or proceeds of any assets shall be included in the Marital Share of the Non-Exempt Family Residuary Trust as to which a marital deduction would not be allowed if included.” The intent of the amendment was less than clear.  In fact, the lack of clarity raised the question as to how the estate’s tax burden would be allocated between the marital and children’s trusts.

In Maryland’s probate court the executor (also known as a personal representative) of Clancy’s estate, who incidentally was the attorney who drafted the amendment, argued that the estate taxes should be paid from the marital trust and the children’s trusts equally. Conversely, Alexandra’s attorneys argued that the estate taxes should be taken only from the children’s trust, in order to protect the marital deduction. The dispute made its way to the justices of Maryland’s highest court and ended in a 4-3 decision regarding the interpretation. The majority of the justices ruled in Alexandra’s favor, and found that the clause intended for all of the estate taxes to be paid only from the children’s trust, as that was the best way to protect the marital deduction to federal estate tax laws. The dissenting justices sided with the children, arguing that to find that the taxes needed to be paid from the children’s trust alone negated another clause in the will that wanted the taxes to be paid equally from two of the trusts.

Interestingly, the lawyer who drafted the provision ultimately sided with the children’s interpretation. What do these events tell us about drafting wills? While Clancy may have intended what the children argued, the document’s wording did not support that intent. Having clear language in your will can help to prevent estate fights such as this. This article is meant to provide an example about the importance of clear language in wills and trusts. Individuals who have questions about what should go into a will or how the wording of a will may affect the distribution of an estate should consult an attorney. Please do not hesitate to contact the attorneys of Chepenik Trushin LLP, who are ready, willing, and able to assist with your estate planning and probate litigation needs.