It’s not uncommon to hear about estate litigation after celebrities have passed away; people often come forward claiming they were direct descendants or had other legal claim to deceased celebrities’ wealth. What is sometimes surprising is to learn that such claims are not limited to the estates of famous musicians or actors; disputes can also arise over the estates of convicted criminals.
When infamous murderer Charles Manson died in November 2017 after 40 years in prison, four different parties asserted claims to his estate. Two of those parties have since dropped their claims, leaving Manson’s grandson and one of Manson’s prison correspondents, Michael Channels.
Channels’ claim is based on a 2002 will in which Manson named Channels as the sole beneficiary of estate assets. The ultimate disposition of Manson’s estate, which includes the right to use Manson’s image, his music, artwork, and personal effects, isn’t known yet. However, the execution of the 2002 Will could be problematic for Channels. California law requires that two competent adults witness the signature of the person creating a Will, and Channels served as one of the two witnesses in the Will that named him as the only beneficiary. At the very least, this created the appearance of a conflict of interest. The fact that there were not two disinterested witnesses can be used as leverage to claim that the Will was executed under duress, was fraudulent, or that Manson lacked capacity to create it at the time.
When people create Wills and other estate planning documents using do-it-yourself forms, they may be tempted to have family members or friends who are also named in the documents serve as witnesses. The ongoing dispute over Manson’s estate, and the potential legal hurdles Channels now faces, illustrate why that’s not a good idea.
Working with an experienced estate planning attorney is the best way to ensure your legal documents are designed to do what you want them to do, and that they are designed to minimize the impact of Will contests or other estate challenges. Our team of experts has the experience and ability to tailor a comprehensive estate plan for you. After a thorough review of your assets we will present you with various estate planning techniques that will suit your needs no matter what type of estate you have. To learn more, and to get started with your own estate planning, contact us today!