Avoiding “Helter Skelter” Estate Planning Mistakes

Q: What happens when multiple wills are presented for probate?

More than a month after the death of one of the most notorious mass murderers of our time, the late Charles Manson is making headlines again due to a large fight over who is entitled to his remains and belongings.

The Manson estate appears to be a prime example of why people should consult a skilled estate planning attorney to ensure that their assets are distributed and their bodies disposed of in the matter they wish. Those who take a do-it-yourself estate planning approach may find that a mistake or omission makes their homemade will invalid.  This is particularly true in cases where one wishes to disinherit the relatives who would be deemed heirs by law under their state’s intestacy statute.

California probate administration attorneys help the personal representative of a deceased person’s estate navigate the probate proceeding in the Superior Court of the county in which the decedent lived at the time of death.  If the decedent died with a will, the named executor would be the personal representative of the estate. If there is no will, a family member or close friend may petition the court to be appointed as an administrator of the estate. The executor or administrator has various duties including inventorying, appraising, and distributing estate assets to designated beneficiaries, paying outstanding debts and any federal estate or income taxes, and more.

What happens if multiple wills are presented? Which one, if any, is valid?

In the Manson case, at least two purported wills have surfaced to date. One purported will, from February 2002, allegedly left everything to a pen pal. Another purported will from January 2017, allegedly left everything to “Manson’s self-proclaimed son”. In addition, an alleged grandson is also battling for Manson’s remains. The fight has been described as a “circus”.

Meanwhile, the corpse is on ice pending a court ruling on who is entitled to the remains and the rights to Manson’s assets, which may include music rights, the right to the use of Manson’s image and the creation of documentaries, and more.

In addition, the question of what court has jurisdiction over the estate is also an issue. In which county did Manson– a prisoner—actually live? Manson spent nearly 50 years in prison, mostly in one county. He lived in another county before his incarceration. And he died in a hospital in yet another county.

While the Manson estate is an apparent legal mess, most of us still have the ability to ensure our affairs are in order and our loved ones will be financially secure after we’re gone. Or if for some reason you’d rather disinherit certain family members and leave all or part of your estate to friends or charities, a properly executed estate plan can do that as well.

If you are in need of an estate plan or would like to modify an existing estate plan, Biddle Law can help you. Contact us today for a free 15-minute consultation.

With offices in San Mateo and Belmont, we service clients throughout San Mateo County including San Carlos, Burlingame, and Foster City.