Ric Ocasek is the latest celebrity estate to make some news. In the past few years, news stories have hit about Aretha Franklin and her 3 handwritten wills, Tom Petty’s widow and his children embroiled in a will contest and of course, one of the most famous recent estate stories, Prince died without a will and created years of lawsuits for his family. The other side of the proverbial coin, David Bowie had a well-drafted and thought out plan for his family.

Unlike some of the previous cases, Ocasek’s estate actually includes a plan. However, Ocasek’s plan was to disinherit his wife, Paulina Porizkova. According to some of the stories in the tabloids, Ocasek and Porizkova separated in May 2018. After their separation, they continued to live together in Manhattan. But Ocasek revised his estate plan after the separation and also disinherited two of his children, Adam and Christopher. Those two children also are considering their legal options, although, at this time, it’s limited to obtaining information from the estate. Porizkova, however, has a different right as the spouse. She is entitled to utilize New York’s “Elective Share” law as his widow.

What is New York’s Elective Share?

In New York, you can create an estate plan that disinherits your spouse. Especially in the case of an ex-spouse, you’ll want to make sure you have your estate plan properly drafted. But if you are still married to your spouse, attempting to disinherit them totally will not necessarily work. Under the law, they have the right to claim what is called an “Elective Share”, which is one-third of your estate or $50,000, whichever is greater. Some have tried to get around this by leaving a token amount to their spouse. (Years ago, I reviewed a will that left $.33 to a person’s spouse. The person was trying to be cute. He also claimed his estate was worth “$1” and thus the $.33 was the one-third his wife would receive under the elective share. But, of course, when we dug into the assets, there was far more than $1 in the estate…)

So even if you leave a portion of your estate to your spouse that is less than one-third or $50,000, in New York, your spouse can still claim the elective share. The challenge, of course, is what happens if the person has engaged in some complex estate planning. Depending on how you have created your estate plan, the amount in your estate may be negligible. Through the use of irrevocable trusts and other more complex planning tools, you may be able to effectuate the disinheritance of your spouse in a creative manner. But that’s not a path that is lightly chosen. And is also not a good idea to trust a website form.

Next Steps

These are pretty complex issues. If you don’t have a will yet, or if you have one that you may need to update, call my office to set up a Legal Strategy Session and we can review the best options for you – (877) AMAYERS.

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