Eight marriages, five children, one handwritten will

Legendary talk show host Larry King died at age 87 earlier this year, after a stellar career that included more than 50,000 interviews of presidents, movie stars, religious figures, cultural icons, criminals, famous musicians and many more. King was known for his easy-going, conversational style that he said relaxed guests and helped make them more open and forthcoming. He was also known for his refusal to prepare for interviews, insisting that it was better to listen carefully to his guests and then ask questions about what they’d said.

Estate plan discarded

That willingness to forsake preparation is part of the legal dispute between his widow, Shawn, and his son from a previous marriage, Larry King. Jr., over a handwritten will made two years ago.

Many wonder why King would abandon his previous estate plan, prepared by an attorney and signed before witnesses, for one he wrote himself.

It should be noted that California accepts handwritten wills, as long as they meet certain requirements.

Marred by mistakes

While handwritten wills can be legally acceptable, they’re often marred by errors, inadvertent as they might be, that leave behind more questions than answers, as well as confusion, disagreements between beneficiaries and probate litigation.

In King’s particular situation – he’d been married eight times, had five children and an estate worth millions – it was a particularly bad idea to leave a handwritten will. In addition, there are reports that King left his widow out of the will, though they were separated and in the process of getting divorced when he died.

Another reason to forgo handwritten wills: they aren’t required to be witnessed, so they’re widely believed to be more likely to be the product of someone exerting undue influence on the person who wrote the will.

Lingering questions

Shawn King would have to provide the court with evidence that his children influenced him unduly. The fact that her husband, a wealthy man of stature, left behind a handwritten will that replaced his professionally prepared estate plan raises questions about whether he was pressured to write a new will.

Many observers wonder why he didn’t simply contact his lawyer to make changes to his estate plan.

Will this case go to trial? No one yet knows. Many legal disputes of this type are settled in negotiations with the help of an experienced probate litigation attorney.