Florida Elder Law & Estate Planning Blog


Ambiguity turns estate plans into a mess

October 18, 2010

You can learn a lot about estate planning from celebrities. Even if you’re not into Hollywood gossip or have millions yourself, it’s undeniable that the mistakes of the rich and famous can help us learn what to do… and what not to do. Here’s one celebrity whose estate plan demonstrates how important it is for your documents to be crystal clear. Where there is ambiguity, there is the potential for “interpretation.”  That sets the stage for conflict and possibly, costly litigation.

Actor Dennis Hopper used an ambiguous phrase

Take controversial actor Dennis Hopper, who died in May leaving behind an estate worth $25 million. When he married his fifth wife in 1996, a prenuptial agreement was drawn up stating that she would get 25% of his estate if they were still living together. It also stipulated that if either of them filed for divorce, she was to vacate the home they lived in within 60 days.

When Hopper filed for divorce in January, she indeed moved out of the “home” — right into the guest house located on the compound property. So the question now roiling the estate is this: When Hopper died in May, were they still “living together?” She says yes. The trustees of the Hopper trust say no. The prenuptial did not specify the meaning of “home.”  You can be sure that this conflict will provide plenty of work for plenty of lawyers for a good time to come.

Do you have estate planning documents currently? Are you sure they are crystal clear? Do you want to draw up an estate plan that eliminates any trouble-making ambiguity? The attorneys of The Karp Law Firm can advise you.