What Happened to Anne Heche's Estate?
Anne Heche’s accidental death was shocking and serves as a reminder of how unpredictable life can be. On August 5, 2022, she was involved in a car crash in the Mar Vista neighborhood of Los Angeles. She unfortunately succumbed to her injuries a week later, with officials listing her cause of death as burns and smoke inhalation.
While there are many questions (and theories) surrounding her death, that's not what we're here to focus on today. As we reflect on her legacy as an actress and celebrity, we can learn from her estate planning situation.
Did Anne Heche Die Without a Will?
Anne Heche died without a will and consequently placed her surviving family members in a difficult position. Who had a right to inherit? Who would receive what? Family fighting and court battles ensued.
First, an email was presented to the court implying that Heche wanted her ex, James Tupper should be the administrator of her estate. As the administrator, it would be his job to distribute her assets to the rightful heirs. The contents of the email also dictated her wishes:
"In case I die tomorrow and anyone asks. My wishes are that all of my assets go to the control of Mr. James Tupper to be used to raise my children and then given to the children. They will be divided equally among our children, currently Homer Heche Laffoon and Atlas Heche Tupper, and their portion given to each when they are the age of 25."
This document does not meet the legal requirements of a valid will in California. It is not in her handwriting, she did not sign it, and there were no witnesses. Because of this, the Court has to proceed as if there is no will. So, her assets will now be distributed according to state law. Her estate is subject to the long and public probate process.
Lesson Learned: If you're going to draft a will, make sure you do it right! Simply telling someone what your wishes are doesn't make them legally binding. About two-thirds of Americans haven't established an estate plan of any kind. Don't be one of them.
What Was Anne Heche's Net Worth?
Every adult should have a basic estate plan, regardless of their net worth. But, in general, the more money and property a person has, the more risk they are taking by not having an estate plan. According to the court filings, Heche had about $400,000 in accounts and property in her name. It's expected that she had a similar amount in residuals and royalties annually.
Family of Anne Heche
Anne Heche was not married when she passed away, but left behind two sons from different two fathers:
Homer Laffoon (twenty years old), and
Atlas Tupper (thirteen years old).
Anne Heche and Coleman Laffoon, the father of Homer, were married in 2001 and divorced in 2009. Heche split up with Atlas’s father, James Tupper, in 2018, but the two were never married.
How the Estate of Anne Heche Will Settle
In California, where Heche lived, probate records are public. This means that anyone can access personal information about her estate, such as the type and extent of all her accounts and property.
With some careful estate planning, Heche could have minimized or eliminated the need for probate. For example, trusts and gifting are both great options that can help someone avoid probate.
Alas, Heche's estate is subject to California intestacy laws. Here is how her estate will be settled based on those laws:
Heche died without a surviving spouse or domestic partner. Therefore, her children will inherit everything, divided equally between them.
Normally, an estate administrator is specified in the will. Since Heche did not have one, California intestate law specifies that, absent a surviving spouse or domestic partner, children are next in line for the role. The court has just recently approved Heche’s son Homer to assume this role.
Another issue to address is the fact that Atlas Tupper is a minor, and as such, requires representation (a guardian ad litem) during probate. In California, the court may appoint a guardian ad litem. It could also name Homer as the guardian of his little brother, which Homer has requested in court filings. Atlas will also need someone to manage his share of the estate until he is 18 years old. Again, this appointment could come from the court in the form of a court-appointed conservator.
In Heche’s case—an unmarried woman with two clear heirs—probate may not be terribly complicated. If she had a will, she might have made the same specifications as state law.
However, not creating an estate plan leaves your assets and after-death wishes at the mercy of the state. Instead of letting the state choose a guardian ad litem and court-appointed conservator for her minor son, for example, Heche could have simply created a trust to manage his inheritance until he came of age. She could have also personalized the trust by attaching conditions, making his inheritance dependent on certain life achievements, such as graduating college or getting a job.
Don't Make The Same Mistakes—Talk to an Estate Planning Attorney
Nobody plans to die unexpectedly. But if you die without a will, you cede control of your estate to impersonal government forces that may not have your best interests, or those of your heirs, in mind. Estate planning is a way to take charge of your legacy and ensure that your money and property end up where you want. Your plan can be very general or very specific, and even the most basic estate plan is better than no plan. To start planning today, reach out to our office at 614-389-9711 and schedule a consultation.
Want to learn more about estate planning? Download our Consumer's Guide to Estate Planning in Ohio here.