In 2017, country music star Glen Campbell died, leaving behind a sizable fortune and an estate dispute between his eight children and his current wife.
He found success as a session musician before embarking on a solo career that included smashes “Gentle On My Mind,” “Galveston,” “Wichita Lineman” and “Rhinestone Cowboy”, which landed him in the Country Music Hall of Fame. Campbell died shortly after his wife disclosed he was in the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease. Campbell, who was 81 at the time of his death, was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in August 2011.
At the time of his death, his estate is estimated to be worth $50 million. However, he had been married four times and has a total of eight children from those relationships. Such a complex family would normally require estate planning that is reflective both of his family circumstances and of the size of his fortune.
Unfortunately, that is not the case. Campbell’s last will was written in 2006, just 5 years before he was diagnosed with Alzheimers. Since his diagnosis, his current wife, Kim Woollen, has taken charge of his estate and represented him on his behalf. Kim Woollen had been married to Campbell since 1982, and although the 2006 will had not been amended in any way, it has come to light that some of Campbell’s children had been excluded from the will.
The 13-page will, which was dated Sept. 1, 2006, excludes daughter Kelli and sons William and Wesley from any direct benefit from his estate. Stating that he was “specifically excluding” the three children from receiving anything under the will or a related trust, the filing names his wife, Kim, as executor. It gives no explanation why three of the kids were cut out. Those three children have now launched an estate dispute, claiming their fair share of their father’s estate.
Campbell had five more children from three other wives. He had eldest daughter Debby Campbell-Cloyd, 61, with his first wife Diane Kirk, 37-year-old Dillon with his third wife Sarah Barg and three kids with his fourth wife Kimberly Woollen – Cal, 34; Shannon, 32; and Ashley, 30.
However, Travis and his older half-sister Debby did file a lawsuit in 2015 when they said Kim had kept them from seeing their father for over year.
At that point, Kim had moved her husband to a long-term care facility so he could get round-the-clock attention for his Alzheimer’s.
The brother and sister won their legal battle a year later, and Tennessee has since passed a law inspired by the case, which protects family members’ rights to see their loved ones who suffer from diseases similar to Alzheimer’s. Previously, the primary family member in charge of the sufferer was allowed to dictate who could and couldn’t get visitation.
Avoiding an Estate Dispute for Blended Families
If you have a blended family, estate planning is even more important. Throw in cognitive decline and you have a recipe for an estate battle and strained family relationships long after your death.
One good option is to utilise a testamentary discretionary trust, so that you have better control over how your assets will be divided. A testamentary discretionary trust is a type of trust created under a will, comes into existence only upon the administration of the deceased estate
Choose a beneficiary you trust to financially provide for your spouse and your children. A testamentary trust will protect your assets for your children from your first relationship. It’s tempting to assume that your new spouse will ‘do the right thing’, but we have seen this assumption proven wrong countless times.
You may create two testamentary trusts, one for your children and the other for your partner’s children. This is beneficial if both of you were to pass away at the same time, in a car accident, for example. You could also choose to divide the entirety of your estate between your children, your partner and his/her children. Or you may wish to exclude your step children. If you were to have children in your new marriage or partnership, you could also include them in your will.
However, you may also choose to give all of your estate to your new partner, with no assets to be given to your children or your partner’s children. Whatever your decision, it is best to discuss with your family and to be written in your will to avoid a future estate dispute.
A blended family can create more complexity for the purposes of estate planning, but it is necessary to ensure that everyone in the family is protected. An estate dispute in court is time-consuming and costly, and thoughtful estate planning is an easy solution. It’s note always easy to discuss your own death with your family members, but it’s a far better solution than for your family to be involved in a protracted estate dispute.
At Groom & Lavers, we are always happy to help. Contact us today for legal advice.