Short Cuts Can Take Longer

Short cuts only provide favorable results for a short period of time. My mom always said if you are going to take the time to do something, then take the time to do it right. A good example of how taking a short cut with estate planning can cause problems is with the estate of soap opera star Kristoff St. John.

Soap Opera Problems

Fans of the soap opera The Young & the Restless were undoubtedly upset when Kristoff St. John, who played Neil Winters for 25 years, passed away unexpectedly in February 2019 at that age of 52. He had faced issues with mortality. First, when his son committed suicide in 2014 at age 24. Then, the depression he suffered while dealing with his son’s death that lead him to seek mental health help instead of following through with suicide. With these problems, Kristoff may not have been aware he had a life-threatening disease that ultimately took his life because it has few symptoms. The autopsy report stated the cause of death was hypertrophic cardiomyopathy disease, which makes it hard for the heart to pump blood to the rest of the body. The autopsy report also said it was accidentally brought on by an alcohol overdose.

Perhaps realizing his own mortality encouraged him to take steps needed to wrap up his affairs and provide for his children. He had two daughters. According to his will, he left 75% of the money in his Wells Fargo savings account to his minor daughter Lola and 25% to his daughter Paris. He also left a check for his dad so he could give money to Lola "immediately." He left his dad in charge of deciding how to distribute personal property.

So, what is the issue with the will?

The will had a lot of scribbled out words, arrows with words added, and paragraphs with x marks. These are problems that can occur when a will is not drafted by an attorney. Hand drafted wills, called holographic wills, are valid here in Texas but can be successfully challenged if not done properly. They must be signed and written entirely in the handwriting of the testator. When there are scribbles and mark throughs then it can be difficult to tell which was done by the testator prior to signing.

Look at a couple of pages from Kristoff St. John’s will.

The Challenges

His daughter Paris is challenging her dad's will. She alleges the will should not be probated because it is not clear what was marked and edited at the time the will was signed and what was done after he signed the will. She also claimed it was not in her dad’s handwriting, and the will was found in a diary and not meant to be seen by anyone. The court in Los Angeles has appointed Paris and Kristoff’s dad as co-executors despite the will naming only the dad as executor. The court has not ruled on the challenges to the will although it has been submitted to the probate court by Kristoff’s dad.

Final Thoughts

Kristoff St. John was wealthy enough to seek the advice of an estate planning attorney, but he was likely very busy and may not have had time to visit an attorney’s office. At the Law Office of Hugh Spires, Jr. PLLC, we send an attorney with 25 years’ experience to our clients within 50 miles of San Antonio, Texas because we know some people are too busy, too tired or too ill to travel to the attorney. We recognize the importance of having a will and your wishes upheld.

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