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Telemundo Star’s Early Death Raises Questions About Holographic Will

Yet another celebrity has passed away unexpectedly, perhaps without conducting any estate planning. She left behind a complex family arrangement filled with disagreement and a fortune estimated at nearly $25 million. Telemundo star Jenni Rivera was a household name in Mexico when she died last month in a plane crash at the age of 43. The tragedy struck just as the singer was poised to make a breakout in the United States entertainment industry with a starring role in an ABC television show.

Complex Family Life
Obviously using trusts and having a will for inheritance issues is critical for all families but especially for those with large fortunes and complex family arrangements. Rivera fit the bill on both accounts. According to a recent Forbes article, she was married three times. The first two ended in divorce, with her second husband passing away in 2009. At the time of her death she was technically still married to her third husband, but that marriage was in the midst of divorce at the time. Rivera had four children in total from her first two marriages. There are significant age differences between the children, as she had her first when she was only 15 years old.

It is obvious from even that brief explanation that there are a seemingly endless possibilities for infighting over the fortune. But it gets even more mysterious. That is because Rivera’s sister has come forward with a letter that she claims laid out the singer’s wishes. The letter seems to indicate that the singer wanted the sister to inherit her assets, manage her business affairs, and take care of her minor children.

So how will this all shake out if the singer did not use trusts or have an official will? It is impossible to predict, as the court battle will undoubtedly drag out for a length of time before any resolution is reached. On one hand, the state where the singer’s affairs will be probated have intestacy rules that would seem to give half of the estate to the third husband. Unless they had put some legal documents in place ahead of time, the fact that they were in the midst of divorce is of no consequence. They were still technically married at the time of her passing, and that fact would determine the outcome.

It is also unclear whether the letter will be considered a valid holographic will. This refers to a will written by hand and signed by the individual who died. In New York, holographic wills are generally not acceptable, so the letter would likely have no effect here (even more reason for New Yorkers to visit with an estate planning professional). However, this rule differs state to state and so it may complicate matters in resolving this particular affair.

In any event, the sad passing of Jenni Rivera is yet another reminder of the fact that none of us knows for sure what tomorrow might bring. That is why prudent planning now–no matter what your age–is a wise choice.

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