Group of Friends Sitting On the Beach

Caught in the whirlwind of the tragic demise - the beloved 'Friends' star, Matthew Perry. An enigma surrounds his sudden departure, the cause - yet unknown, with toxicology reports still awaited.

Moving beyond the tragic turn of events and diving into the legal waters - the question of his sprawling estate worth a whopping $120 million. A fortune earned over 10 seasons of the iconic NBC show 'Friends', that kept giving even after its conclusion. Not just limited to the silver screen, Perry had his stakes in the real estate game too - Malibu and Hollywood Hills bore witness. Even his pen added to his assets with his recent autobiography - 'Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing'. 

So, while we mourn the loss of his physical presence, a significant question arises - What becomes of this vast estate? The answer lies in a simple piece of paper - A will. So, did he have one?

If Matthew Had a Will

Matthew was a distinguished advocate for alcohol and drug recovery and I hope that he brought that meticulous approach to his estate planning as an example for others. The benefits derived from such strategic planning are substantial, even if you aren't a celebrity from the hit show Friends:

  • Foremost, it provides the opportunity to appoint a trusted individual, an executor, if you will, to navigate the labyrinth-like intricacies of a vast estate. Careful consideration here can prevent unnecessary difficulties during the probate process.
  • Next, it gives clear directives regarding real estate assets. This eradicates potential disputes over properties, ensuring they are distributed or utilized as per the decedent's wishes.
  • Additionally, it allows for the precise allocation of personal belongings to the intended beneficiaries. This step eliminates uncertainties regarding the dispensation of personal effects.
  • Lastly, it provides clear instructions regarding the potential income from his books and participation in film and television projects. This can include royalties, residuals, and other forms of posthumous income.

The presence of a well-drafted will can drastically streamline the probate court process, reducing both the time spent and the possibility of misinterpretation of the decedent's wishes. When combined with a trust, the benefits multiply. Specifically, the fees associated with probate court can be drastically reduced, as can estate taxes. This is particularly important in states with high taxation, such as California.

If Matthew Did Not Have a Will

When you die without a will, the legal term we use is "intestate." Picture yourself in the midst of a crowded probate court in Los Angeles County, the air thick with tension and uncertainty as state laws take over the control of estate distribution for one of our most beloved actors.

In such scenarios, when the decedent lacks a valid will, the parents are usually the first in line to be primary beneficiaries. However, should they have predeceased (died first), the estate is split and divided among the surviving siblings. It's an automatic process - no sentiment, no personal wishes involved.

The involvement of half-siblings further complicates the situation. By virtue of being birth or adopted children of the decedent's parents, they are entitled to an intestate share. Step-parents, on the other hand, secure no inheritance unless the bonds of adoption are present. It's a hard truth but it’s the reality of law.

Blended families, especially, find themselves chasing after a whirlwind of legal complexities. Your absence may result in the splitting of your estate among half-siblings. The gravity of choosing not to plan your estate can extend beyond just financial implications - it significantly impacts how one's legacy is handled and transferred.

Estate planning, thus, transcends the realm of an optional choice and enters the territory of necessity. It's your assurance, your control in ensuring your legacy ends up exactly where you desire - in the hands of those you care for, those you intend to support.

Lessons from Our Friend

For many, the shock of Matthew's death hasn't worn off yet. There's still more information for us to learn and those of us in the estate planning field are waiting to hear what will happen with his estate. A foundation for addiction and recovery has already been established in his name. But most of us are not celebrities, and I am commonly asked about the next steps to create your estate plan.

The good news is that it's a straightforward process to create an estate plan when you work with an attorney. You won't be forced to navigate an online form website that is mail-merging your information into a form they created years ago. Your attorney can help you answer some initial questions you face, like

  • Who will care for your children if they are under 18?
  • Who will manage money for your children if they need help?
  • Who will be the person to manage the distribution of your estate?
  • Who should be receiving the distributions from your estate?
  • Who should be taking care of your pets?

If you've already got an estate plan, it's also easy to update it when life changes. But the key is that having a will simplified (and sometimes eliminates) the probate process and the headaches and fees that your loved ones will need to navigate after you're gone.

Do You Need an Estate Plan?

If you need an estate plan or maybe just need to update one you had prepared before, let's schedule a Legal Strategy Session online or by calling my Edina, Minnesota office at (612) 294-6982 or my New York City office at (646) 847-3560. My office will be happy to find a convenient time for us to have a phone call to review the best options and next steps for you to work with an estate planning attorney to get your plan prepared and implemented.

Andrew Ayers
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I work with business and estate planning clients to craft legal solutions to protect their legacies.
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