Movie star Paul Walker died in a high-speed car accident in November, leaving a $25 million dollar estate that named his daughter as the sole beneficiary. THELAW.TV asked Houston, Texas estate planning lawyer Keith Morris to comment on the controversies surrounding Walker’s will — and what you can learn from his estate problems.
By Attorney Keith Morris
Special to THELAW.TV
Court documents filed recently in California show that actor Paul Walker left his entire $25 million estate to his 15-year-old daughter, Meadow. While the action star had an estate plan in place, there may be complications in probate court in fulfilling his last wishes.
Walker, world famous for the “The Fast and the Furious” movie franchise, died in a high-speed car crash near Los Angeles on November 30.
The action star died of traumatic and thermal injuries after the Porsche he was a passenger in crashed and burst into flames, according to a coroner’s report. Walker’s friend and financial advisor Roger Rodas was driving the vehicle and also died in the accident.
Investigator reports said there were no mechanical problems found with the vehicle, which was estimated to have been traveling at 100 mph or more at the time of the crash.
In his will, the actor named his father, Paul Walker III, as executor of the estate, according to court documents. In his estate plan, the younger Walker also asked that his mother, Cheryl Walker, be appointed guardian of Meadow and the estimated $25 million of his estate.
The documents filed with the court also request that the actor’s father be given authority to sell and/or invest estate properties as needed.
Guardianship in California
Typically, under California guardianship law, when one parent dies, the surviving parent retains custody of the child and is named guardian of the estate. In some cases, there may be two guardians appointed, one for the child and one for the estate.
The guardian of the estate is charged with the task of responsibly and ethically managing the funds, usually until the child reaches the age of 18.
Meadow was living with her father at the time of his death. The court documents apparently contained no mention of Meadow’s mother, Rebecca Soteros, who has had custody of her daughter since the accident.
To fulfill the conditions in Walker’s will, Soteros would have to consent to signing over custody to Cheryl Walker. If Soteros contests custody, this could create issues in the probate of Walker’s estate and future guardianship of Meadow.
Even with the best laid estate plans, problems can arise. In a case like this, Walker’s wishes will be taken into account, but a California probate judge will have the final say in who controls the money in the estate and who her guardian will be until Meadow reaches the age of 18. As the surviving parent, Soteros likely would have a strong argument to contest guardianship of her daughter.
Walker’s will was signed in 2001, the year the first “Fast and Furious” movie was released. According to the court documents filed by his father, the estate consists of a home valued at an estimated $10 million and unspecified personal property, estimated at $8 million. Court records also show that the estate is expected to earn another $8 million.
Some of the funds likely will come from the release of the seventh “Fast and Furious” movie. The film was still being made at the time of Walker’s death and is set to be released in April 2015.
An initial hearing concerning Walker’s estate is scheduled for February 20.
The author, Keith Morris, is a Houston, Texas estate planning and guardianship attorney.