Utah Divorce Advice

Wills is What We Talkin’ ’bout Willis

A Utah judge found against Gary Coleman’s ex-wife, Shannon Price, in her action challenging Anna Gray (Coleman’s friend and former head of his corporation), from assuming control of Coleman’s estate. Along with control of the childhood actor’s estate, Gray will also be the sole beneficiary of the estate. How did it come to this? Let’s take a closer look.

In 2005 Coleman signed a will naming Anna Gray as the executor and sole beneficiary. Then, in 2007, Coleman married Shannon Price. After the marriage he signed a holographic codicil (or a handwritten amendment) giving his new bride his estate and giving her control as executor.

However, in 2008, Coleman and Price divorced. With divorce comes the death of the former spouse, or at least, that is how the law looks at it when interpreting any estate document. So when the Court probated Coleman’s will, Price was treated as though she had pre-deceased Coleman, therefore the Court struck the codicil from 2007 and enforced the will as it was written in 2005, meaning Gray was named as the executor and sole beneficiary.

Price however did not agree with this and challenged the matter because despite being divorced, she and Coleman still lived together and held themselves out as husband and wife, which she argued made the married by common law, and therefore made the codicil valid and enforceable.

She bolstered her argument claiming the two had a loving, sexual relationship until he died. She ultimately hoped to keep some of the ashes of her former husband, to wear in a locket around her neck.

The judge was less than convinced. After hearing several witnesses testify that Price was physically abusive to Coleman in front of others, displayed no physical affection towards him in public, told people they slept in separate rooms, and was in a romantic relationship with another man, the judge ruled the codicil to be invalid, Gray, the former executor, wins.

Had Coleman truly wished to have Price remain as his named executor and sole beneficiary, despite the divorce, he should have consulted with an estate attorney. Any estate attorney worth his or her salt would have told him he needed to redo the codicil.

If Coleman did not want Price to be the executor or beneficiary, he still should have taken action and either had his will or at least the codicil redone, being clear on his intention to disinherit her, cancelling his previous codicil.

Having a will, while a fantastic start, is not enough. You must read it on occasion and update it to reflect your wishes. Divorce, death of a beneficiary or the named executor or personal representative, are some of the many events that should trigger in the mind the need to revisit your estate plan.