Larry King, the renowned talk show host of CNN’s “Larry King Live”, died on January 23, 2021. Unfortunately, his passing has been marked not just by his loss, but also a rather ugly, and very public, court battle between his wife of twenty-four years, Shawn King, and his son, Larry King Jr.
According to public reports, a document in King’s handwriting purports to distribute his estate—estimated to be worth around $2 million USD—to his five children and makes no mention of his wife, Shawn. The document is dated October 17, 2019, several months after King had suffered a heart attack and two months after he had filed for divorce. Shawn King alleges that the divorce was never finalized, and that in the last few months of King’s life they were working on reconciling.
King Jr. filed an emergency petition in the Los Angeles Superior Court on February 10, 2021, alleging that the document is a valid holograph will. Shawn King has challenged King Jr.’s petition on the basis that the alleged holograph will was written under suspicious circumstances. A hearing is set for March 25, 2021.
This blog series aims to unpack the many legal issues in this evolving drama and what can be learned from it. In this Part 1, I will discuss the requirements of a valid holograph will. In Part 2, I will discuss the possibility that King’s alleged holograph will may be declared invalid. Finally, in Part 3, I will address Shawn King’s potential claim for support from the estate.
A handwritten will, also known as a “holograph will”, is valid under Ontario law. Section 6 of the Succession Law Reform Act in Ontario (“SLRA”) permits a testator to make a will entirely in their own handwriting and signature, with or without witnesses. The handwritten document must clearly demonstrate that the testator intended for the document to qualify as a “testamentary document”, i.e. a document that directs the distribution of their estate after death.
The October 2019 document is reported to be entirely in King’s handwriting and signed by him and two witnesses. The document reads: “This is my Last Will and Testament. It should replace all previous writings. In the event of my death, any day after the above date, I want 100% of my funds to be divided equally among my children Andy, Chaia, Lary Jr, [sic] Chance, & Cannon.”
On the face of the document, if Ontario law applied to it, it would appear to be a valid holograph will as it meets all the technical requirements of the SLRA and shows King’s clear intentions with respect to his estate. However, in Ontario, that would not be the end of the issue. If this dispute was in Ontario, a court may still declare this holograph will to be invalid if there is compelling evidence that King wrote the document while he lacked testamentary capacity, was unduly influenced, or under suspicious circumstances.
Tune in for Part 2 of this series where I talk about the viability of Shawn King’s petition to challenge the validity of the document, if it was put forward in Ontario.
Kimberly Cura is an associate lawyer in the Commercial Litigation Group. She maintains a robust litigation practice focused primarily on estates and trusts law, including powers of attorney disputes and guardianships.