Earlier this year, actor Anne Heche passed away as the result of a fiery car crash. While at first it appeared she might recover, her condition continued to decline, and she remained in a coma for roughly one week after the crash. Soon thereafter, she was declared legally dead and removed from life support. Her date of death was August 11, 2022.
While this tragic passing in and of itself was surely traumatic for her loved ones, headlines began to spin once more when news of a messy estate battle broke. Her passing has since been followed by a very public battle over her estate due to a lack of proper estate planning on Ms. Heche’s part.
Ms. Heche had her first son, Homer, in 2002 with her then-husband Coleman Laffoon. She later had another son, Atlas, in 2009 with her then-boyfriend James Tupper. Now, after Ms. Heche’s death, her first son Homer and her ex-boyfriend Mr. Tupper are the primary individuals fighting over her estate.
A few weeks after Ms. Heche’s passing, Homer filed a petition with the court to be appointed as the administrator of his mother’s estate. An estate administrator (also called an executor or personal representative, depending on jurisdiction) is the appointed legal representative of the deceased. As estate administrator, Homer would be responsible for collecting all of Ms. Heche’s assets, paying her creditors, and distributing the remaining assets to her heirs; the administrator is also typically entitled to compensation from the estate for their services. An estate administrator is typically a surviving spouse or partner, close family member, or close friend. The deceased’s will may specify a preference for who they would like to serve as their administrator. Ms. Heche unfortunately did not have a will, and so the court cannot be guided by what Ms. Heche would have wanted.
Before formally declaring Homer as the estate administrator, the court needed to notify interested parties. As the parent of the decedent’s minor child Atlas, Mr. Tupper was notified as an interested party in the estate. Mr. Tupper fought against Homer’s petition for appointment as administrator, arguing that Homer was too young, did not have sufficient income, and did not have a good relationship with Ms. Heche at the time of her death. Further, Mr. Tupper alleged that Ms. Heche had previously told him, in an email in 2011, that she wanted Mr. Tupper to be in charge of her estate if she died. The court ultimately chose to appoint Homer as administrator of Ms. Heche’s estate at the end of August 2022.
Since his appointment, Homer has remained the administrator, despite many attempts from Mr. Tupper to intervene. In September 2022, the court declined Mr. Tupper’s request to allow him to act as Atlas’ guardian ad litem in the estate administration. As guardian ad litem, Mr. Tupper would be granted the responsibility of legally representing the interests of Atlas in the estate proceedings. The court also declined further arguments regarding Homer’s capacity to serve as the estate administrator, finding that Mr. Tupper had not adequately proven that Homer is unqualified to fulfill his obligations as administrator.
As this ugly estate battle continues—and continues to make headlines—it serves as a potent reminder of the importance of proper estate planning, including designating the person(s) you want to serve as personal representative of your estate and planning for minor children. Now that she has passed and did not leave behind a will, it is impossible to truly know who Ms. Heche would have wanted to serve in this important role. This problem occurs far too often, but is easily avoidable—with proper estate planning, your wishes can be made crystal clear.