Larry King’s Holographic Will
Larry King, popular long-time talk show host, passed away on January 23, 2021 at the age of 87. At the time of his death, Mr. King had been married to Shawn Southwick for more than 20 years. The couple had filed for divorce in August 2019, however they were still married at the time of Mr. King’s death. It is believed that on Oct. 17, 2019, Larry King wrote the following:
From what is known at this time, it is believed that Larry King did not write another will before his death. Larry King, Jr. filed this holographic will for probate. Shawn King has filed a contest to this document asserting that it is “an ineffective codicil” and “likely a nullity.”
Like California, Texas also allows for holographic wills, i.e. wills written entirely in the handwriting of the testator. While holographic wills are often more complicated to probate and will probably result in higher costs to a client’s estate, I have occasionally found myself advising clients to write a simple holographic will when they are nervous that they might die before an attorney-drawn will can be signed. That said, reading about the battle over Larry King’s estate reinforces my belief that there are several good reasons why you should hire an attorney to draft your will. These include:
First, with a holographic will, there is a greater chance of ambiguities and unintentional omissions. For instance, in Larry King’s will, he states that his “funds” should be divided amount his children. In my opinion, it is unclear whether “funds” includes his real property and any personal property other than financial accounts. If this document is admitted to probate as Larry King’s will, there could still be litigation as to what these words mean. A court might find that he died partially intestate, that is that part of his estate passes per his will and part of his estate passes according to intestacy laws of his state of residence. Additionally, two of Mr. King’s children passed away after this will was written. The will does not specify what should happen to the share of a deceased beneficiary. Mr. King could have specified that their share would be divided among the living children or that it should go instead to the deceased beneficiary’s children.
Second, a holographic will, especially when there is a considerable estate, lends itself to the chances of a will contest. Because things were likely overlooked in the will and because witnesses are not required, it could more easily be argued that the testator lacked capacity, was unduly influenced, or that the writing was not their own. A lawyer-drawn will has an attorney that can be a witness to defend the will in court if needed along with two witnesses that can testify as to the capacity and identity of the testator.
Third, an attorney could have provided good counsel for Larry King. An attorney could have analyzed Larry King’s estate plan in light of the pending divorce and prenuptial agreements and helped head off potential problems. Though the King family likely has dealt with attorneys related to divorce proceedings, having an experienced estate planning attorney involved might have helped ensure that Mr. King’s exact wishes were known, documented, and carried out with minimal added stress for the family members who remain to pick up the pieces and carry on as best they can in his absence.
If Larry King had gone to an attorney to help him redraw his will, he might have saved his heirs a lot of time, money, and stress. For these and other reasons, people should strongly consider hiring an attorney to help them draft their wills. That Mr. King will be missed, there is no doubt. But perhaps if he had hired an attorney to help him with his estate changes, the current stories about his life would be focused on his accomplishments rather than about his money and family infighting.