Gary Coleman’s dead? “What’choo talkin’ ’bout, Willis?!”
Gary Coleman played “Arnold,” the little brother on TV’s “Diff’rent Strokes,” for eight years beginning in 1978. Coleman appeared in dozens of television films and series over the years. Coleman is perhaps the stereotype of a childhood star with a troubled life.
Coleman had a variety of legal and financial problems over the years. In 1993, a court awarded him over $1.2 million in his lawsuit against his parents and former advisors for misappropriation of his earnings that had been placed into a trust for his benefit. In 1999 he filed for bankruptcy.
Coleman married Shannon Price in August 2007 and they divorced a year later. Coleman continued to have a relationship with Price. In fact, Price was Coleman’s agent under his final Health Care documents.
Unfortunately, problems and controversy still swirl around Coleman, even in death. A dispute has arisen regarding Coleman’s estate. Coleman left a Will in 1999 which did not leave anything to Price. A new 2005 Will surfaced which also did not leave anything to Price. However, Price purports to have a 2007 Codicil in which Coleman leaves everything to her.
However, their 2008 divorce would operate to void the bequests to his ex-wife. Thus, the 2007 Codicil would not operate to leave his assets to his ex-wife, even if it is valid.
The waters are muddied further. Coleman lived with Price in Utah up until his death. Utah recognizes “common law marriage” in which the parties can be married even though they have no formal marriage license. Under Utah law, they must have lived together and must have held themselves out as being married. Under the Utah statute, they must have had the “uniform and general reputation as being husband and wife.” Presumably, the Utah probate court will determine if that was the case.
If Price and Coleman were married at the time of his death, then she would be entitled to one-third of his augmented estate even if he had not left anything to her in his Will.
How will the Utah court rule? Which Will or Codicil will they admit to probate? Will the Court find that Coleman and Price were common law spouses? Stay tuned for future developments…!
Stephen C. Hartnett, J.D., LL.M.
Associate Director of Education
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.