What Does The Fight Over Larry King’s Will Teaches Us About Estate Planning with Blended Families?
6 min read

What Does The Fight Over Larry King’s Will Teaches Us About Estate Planning with Blended Families?

Is the handwritten Will valid? How do ensure that my Will will protect my loved ones? This article explains the fight over Larry King's Estate and how you can avoid these mistakes by creating a valid Will. Keep reading to learn more!

Share this article:

When Larry King died in 2021, he left what he thought were clear instructions about his estate. He wrote a letter that read: 

"This is my Last Will & Testament. It should replace all previous writings. In the event of my death, any day after the above date I want 100% [placed above illegible cross-out] of my funds to be divided equally among my children Andy, Chaia, Larry Jr., Chance & Cannon."

Seems simple and straightforward, right? Wrong. The holographic will was dated Oct. 17, 2019, just two months after he filed for divorce from Shawn King, his seventh wife. Larry’s older children, Andy and Chaia died within 23 days of each other in the summer of 2020. Larry did not update his will after they died. He also never went through with his divorce to Shawn - nor did he withdraw the filing.

This approach to estate planning left the King estate in disarray. Legal filings indicated that his estate was valued at $2 million, but around $144 million was in family trusts. The written note didn’t address who should be an administrator, or who should take his children’s shares in the event that his children passed away. Tragically, two of his children died before Larry passed in 2021. His estate was immediately in disarray.

The Life and Loves of Larry King

Larry King was best known for hosting the CNN talk show "Larry King Live," which aired for 25 years on CNN. By the time King died at age 87, he had been married eight times to seven women. His first marriage was to his high school sweetheart, Freda Miller, in 1952. Their parents didn’t approve and the couple divorced in less than a year. 

Larry married his second wife, Annette Kaye, in 1961, and they had a son, Larry Jr. The couple divorced in 1963. Larry never met his namesake and eldest child until Larry Jr. was in his 30s. 

King's third marriage was to Alene Akins, a former Playboy Bunny, in 1961. They divorced in 1969 but remarried in 1970 and divorced again in 1972. They had a daughter named Chaia and a son named Andy.

King's fourth marriage was to Mickey Sutphin in 1963, whom he married in between his marriages to Akins. They divorced in 1967. King married Sharon Lepore in 1976, and they divorced in 1983. In 1989, he married Julie Alexander, and they divorced in 1992.

King's last marriage was to Shawn Southwick, whom he married in 1997. They had two children together, Chance and Cannon. The couple filed for divorce in 2010 but allegedly reconciled before King's death.

Who are Larry King’s Heirs?

Overall, King had five children: Larry Jr., Chaia, Andy, Chance, and Cannon. King’s handwritten will said nothing about who was to inherit his estate in the event that any of the children died. When Andy and Chaia died before their father, what happened to their shares of the estate? Did their shares pass to their children? And if they had no children, what happens then? These questions were unanswered by the handwritten will. The handwritten will also said nothing about his wife Shawn, who was entitled to a share of his assets under California law.

King Already Had an Estate Plan

At the time of his death, King had an estate plan for the bulk of his estate. His will was written in 2015. At least $144 million was placed in family trusts. Trusts allow you to leave your assets to your heirs privately and efficiently. But around $2 million of King’s remaining assets were not held in trust. Presumably, King’s handwritten “will” was meant to dispose of the $2 million estate, but it’s not very clear.

Is the Handwritten Will Valid?

We’ve written many times about the many reasons never to make a handwritten will. You especially shouldn’t attempt a handwritten will when you were married eight times and have five children! FastWill can walk you through a will that is guaranteed to be valid in your state. Since Larry King didn’t use FastWill, his will is now being litigated.

For a handwritten will to be valid under California law, it must be written in the testator’s handwriting, signed and dated by the testator who’s at least 18 years old and of sound mind. Shawn is challenging her husband’s testamentary capacity to make that will. “Testamentary capacity” refers to whether the person who made the will can actually understand what they are signing. Shawn told the court that the will might have been written when her husband was under duress. He made the will after he filed for divorce and two months after he had a heart attack. She contends that Larry Jr. might have influenced his decision to scrawl a note about his estate.

At the time of his death, Larry King was still married to Shawn. However, Larry Jr. filed with the probate court to be appointed administrator of the estate. According to Shawn, she and Larry were reconciling and she should be the administrator of the estate in accordance with his 2015 will. 

Shawn challenged Larry Jr.’s right to be involved with the state, pointing to the fact that he didn’t have a relationship with his father until he was in his 30s. Shawn contends that she’s been involved in all of her husband’s business dealings, whereas Larry Jr. has no experience in complex business matters.  

Shawn contends that under the family trust terms, she has full control over trust assets. She argues that Larry would have wanted her to assume the same role over his estate, regardless of his handwritten note.

Moreover, Shawn says that she found a “secret account” showing that Larry let his son borrow more than $260,000 against the King estate. She says that’s a conflict of interest. She says that this was an improper gift of community property that belonged equally to her. 

Larry Jr. argued that his father was still committed to divorcing Shawn. Their property was being sold and they lived separately. He also alleged that his dad’s caregivers had gone unpaid and that King’s two production companies needed leadership immediately. 

Shawn obviously didn’t buy any of this. According to her legal filing, the production companies were just loan-out companies. Loan-out companies are used by many people in the entertainment industry, like actors, musicians, writers, and directors. The primary purpose of a loan out company is to separate a person’s personal finances from their professional work. The company typically contracts with the production company or studio to provide the individual's services and the individual is paid through the loan out company rather than directly. If King did use loan-out companies, Shawn might be right that they are not meant to exist after King’s death.

If Shawn succeeds in challenging the handwritten note, then a court will invalidate it and declare King’s 2015 the controlling document.

What Larry King Did Wrong

First and foremost, he wrote a holographic will. The states that accept handwritten wills have varying standards for proving the will is valid. It is better to simply make a will using the pre-approved legal language for your state, which is something you can do right now with FastWill.

Secondly, King should have been aware that under state law, you can’t legally disinherit a spouse. If you are in the process of a divorce but it hasn’t been finalized, the surviving spouse is often still entitled to a share of the estate. If you really don’t want the spouse to inherit, then you have to go through with the divorce.

Third, King forgot to name an administrator for his estate. If he really was of sound mind when he made that note, he would have appointed someone as administrator. 

Fourth, King left no instructions for dealing with the loan he gave Larry Jr. If Larry Jr. is the administrator of the estate, will he require himself to actually pay back that loan? 

The fight over King’s estate has already dragged on for two years and could take time to go through the courts, diminishing the value of the estate. Don’t make these same mistakes when you could simply make an estate plan that covers these points using FastWill.

Scroll Down
Share this article:
Let’s begin! First, what’s your name?

Your name that’s stated on your driver’s license, birth certificate, or passport.