‘Easy Rider’ Estate is in for a Bumpy Road

I am not usually one to fall into following tabloid or celebrity news, but a couple of stories from the past few days recently caught my eye and seemed appropriate to at least mention here. No, I won’t plug the paparazzi-style website that piqued my interest, but if you follow traditional news, you know that actor / film maker Dennis Hopper passed away last Saturday, after his battle with prostate cancer. Hopper was married five times over his life. The last one might really cost him.

Hopper and his fifth wife were in the process of divorcing one another. He filed in January of this year. Under a prenuptial agreement, Victoria Duffy would receive 25% of Hopper’s Estate, and $250,000 in life insurance proceeds. As a catch, the two had to be married and living together when he died.

That last part’s the trick. Over the last several months, various court rulings resulted in Duffy residing at Hopper’s property, but in a completely separate house. In fact, Duffy was previously ordered to remain at least 10 feet away from Hopper. Nonetheless, the wheels of justice turn slowly, and the two remained married when Hopper passed away, so Duffy is halfway home to a large payout.

Interestingly enough, the stories say that Duffy is not challenging Hopper’s Will. She’s just trying to make sure that her deal under the prenup stands. One of Hopper’s children seems set on making sure that never happens.

So the fight, and there will likely be a big one, now moves from the divorce court to the probate court. Whatever becomes of Hopper’s Estate will demonstrate that court’s application of laws related to prenuptial agreements, contracts and probate. And the results may well prompt other not-so-celebrity types to fully evaluate their own estate plans. We may not all be Hollywood A-listers, but whether the estate is $40,000 or $40 million, the stakes are high enough to engage in smart planning.