Gary Coleman's Different Strokes

08/10/2010

Usually it is better to die with an estate plan then without one.  Gary Coleman’s estate could present an exception to this general rule.  Apparently, Coleman (the late star of Diff’rent Strokes) had conflicting estate planning documents.  As a result, his true intentions are not known.  Add the fact that Coleman was a celebrity to the mix, and it becomes a recipe for disaster.

Because of a conflicting will (which if authentic named Anna Gray as the beneficiary) and codicil (which if authentic named ex-wife Shannon Price as the beneficiary) filed for probate, a special administrator has been appointed to oversee the day to day administration of the estate. Last week, the administrator filed probate court asking for permission to sell Coleman's Utah home. The house is apparently in bad shape and is in need of repairs to get it ready for sale.  The administrator also requested permission to remove Coleman's personal effects from the premises because they "are disorganized and in disarray."  Based on probate documents, Coleman had little or no equity in the property at the time of his death.  The administrator asked to list the property for sale at $324,000 while Coleman allegedly owed over $325,000 on the mortgage.

So why would the potential beneficiaries fight if Coleman was not a very wealthy man at the time of his death?  It seems like there is always money when a celebrity is involved. The potential beneficiaries are staking claim to Coleman's pension, residuals from his TV and movie work and the right to license his likeness, which, according to Gray's attorney, Randy Kester, could be worth millions.

The lesson.  Take the time to do your estate plan right.  You need to be clear as to how you want your property distributed.  If you want to make changes to your documents you need to ensure that those changes do not conflict with other provisions of your estate plan ... in other words don't use "different strokes" when expressing your intent.