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The Rivera Estate & Holographic Wills in California

Jenni Rivera was not a household name in most parts of the United States. But the singer, writer, and Telumundo star was known to almost everyone in Mexico. Had things gone differently, she may have gained a following in the United States as well, because she was set to appear in a new ABC television show. Tragically, it was not meant to be, as Rivera died in early December in a Mexican plane crash.
Rivera was only 43 years old at the time of her death, leaving behind five children–the oldest of whom was 28 years old. As a result of her success in the entertainment industry, it is reported that she left behind an estate valued at nearly $25 million.

No Planning?
Even though she had a considerable fortune and a large complex family situation–two ex-husbands and was in the midst of a third divorce–Rivera may not have any extensive estate planning matters taken care of. It is unclear if she worked with an attorney on these matters or if she ever had a formal will or trust created to handle inheritance issues and passing on of assets.

As you might imagine, with millions on the line and no legal protection in place, chaos has grown surrounding the estate. As discussed in a recent Forbes article, the only indication of the late entertainer’s wishes may be a letter that she allegedly wrote to her sister. In it, the singer allegedly explained that she wanted her sister to take her assets, manage her business interests, and take care of her two minor children. The father of those children (her second husband) is not living.

Rivera’s official residence was California, and so the estate is being handled by our court system.
Considering nothing else has been brought forward explaining the woman’s wishes, the court is now being forced to determine if this letter counts as a “holographic will.” This refers to a handwritten document which appears to lay out one’s long-term wishes. There are very specific rules about what must be shown in this document to qualify as a will. However, in some cases, the court will treat the document as valid so long as there is “clear and convincing” evidence that the document was intended to be a will when it was signed by the party. It remains unclear if the letter will have any effect.

All of this is atop the complication of the yet-unfinished divorce. Even though Rivera was in the process of ending her third marriage, at the time of her passing she was still married. Traditional intestacy rules in California suggest that the husband is entitled to one-third of the spouse’s estate. In fact, even if the letter is deemed valid, the estranged husband may still have claims to one-third the estate unless they couple had some sort of prenuptial agreement in place to limit that outcome.

The fact is, from wealthy celebrities to middle class community members, everyone has an interest in ensuring their long-term affairs are handled properly. The future is always uncertain, and so you should take steps now to protect your family. For guidance in the San Diego area, please contact the estate planning attorney at our firm today.

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