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Lessons from the Kardashians – Keeping Up With Your Estate Plan

In today’s world of reality television, it seems like a day does not go by without some breaking news on the Kardashian family.  A fascination has been born with the daily activities of the members of this family.

It’s fair to say it’s been an eventful year for the Kardashian clan, even by their standards.

First there came the news that Kris and Bruce were getting divorced, then Khloe and Lamar followed suit, then Kourtney and Scott had their third baby – but soon after they decided to call it quits (again), then Kim discovered she’s pregnant with her second child. And then… to top off possibly the most life-changing of life-changing years for the first family of TV, Bruce became Cait.

Phew! Life in the Kardashian world doesn’t get any more Kardashian than that.

In a recent episode of Keeping up with the Kardashians, 1.3 million viewers tuned in to watch the drama and excitement of the unconventionally famous reality TV Show family. Viewers also received a free estate  administration planning lesson from the family’s matriarch herself, Kris Jenner.

The ex-wife of Bruce Jenner and mother of the Kardashian clan were discussing Kris’ choice about who should be her agent under her Advance Healthcare Directive.  She confused things when she said she didn’t want Bruce Jenner to be her executor under her living will.  A “living will” is the old name in US Law for the part of the Advance Healthcare Directive that discusses end of life wishes and life support.

Then Kris mistakenly called the agent her “executor”.  The executor serves a financial role with regard to a person’s last will and testament.  What she really needed help with was deciding who would be the best person to make her healthcare decisions in the event of her incapacity.

Fortunately, Kris is fine.  Sadly, however, Lamar Odom’s hospitalisation in recent weeks has brought Living Wills and the importance of proper estate administration for the Kardashian family back in the news.

It’s not been an easy life for Lamar. His mother died when he was 12, his father was a heroin addict, and he lost a six-month old child to sudden infant death syndrome.

But many others have survived similarly catastrophic blows and emerged stronger and better from the emotional wreckage.

They, however, didn’t marry a Kardashian.

When Lamar Odom met Khloe Kardashian in 2009, he was an outstandingly good basketball player. He was focused, intense, combative, brilliant and the consummate professional.

Then he fell in love with a Kardashian and his life became public property.

Lamar and Khloe wed on TV in ‘Keeping Up With The Kardashians’ after a 30-day courtship. Even Lamar’s proposal, usually one of the most private, intimate moments of a couple’s life, was filmed on camera. Within months, a new spin-off show was created: ‘Khloe & Lamar’.

Lamar, in a frantic attempt to protect his real career as a basketball player, persuaded the LA Lakers to allow the reality show’s cameras to the games and even into the inner sanctum of the dressing room. It didn’t work. None of it worked.

Viewers watched Lamar grow increasingly stressed as the series progressed, and his game simultaneously deteriorated. Eventually, in 2012, he was traded against his wishes to Dallas Mavericks. From that moment, the spiral of self-disintegration continued when he was arrested for DUI, he went to rehab amid rumours of drug abuse, a tape emerged of him apparently admitting infidelity, the couple split, Khloe & Lamar was cancelled and his basketball career hit skid row.

After being found unconscious in a brothel in Nevada, Lamar was admitted to a Las Vegas hospital in a critical condition and unable to communicate. It soon emerged that, since the divorce was not final, Khloe had legal authority to make medical decisions on Lamar’s behalf. This meant that Khloe had the final say on decisions concerning pain management, artificial feeding and hydration and even end-of-life choices. To have avoided this result, Lamar should have updated his estate planning documents once he knew of his impending divorce.

Although the couple had separated and Khloe had filed for divorce in December, 2013, Lamar had only signed the divorce papers in July of this year and it had not yet been finalised due to a backlog in the Los Angeles courts.

So legally, Khloe is still Lamar’s next of kin, and not only is she making his medical decisions, and acting like a devoted wife, but depending on his will, she’ll likely inherit millions of dollars if he passes away. Khloe may or may not be the person Lamar wants to make his health care decisions, but she is the person he is stuck with.

This unfortunate case holds a major lesson about the intersection of estate planning and divorce. Namely, don’t rely on the divorce itself to do all the work. Legally ending a marriage will automatically sever a number of relationships and free the parties from numerous legal responsibilities to each other, but an estate plan is a layered and complicated creature, and the intertwined duties that it can create will often linger even after a divorce is finalised. It’s imperative that you immediately revisit your estate planning documents after a divorce, as with any major life change, to ensure that everything therein is still palatable in the client’s new reality.

Though the facts here aren’t exactly relatable, there are a surprisingly large number of more common events that could leave you in a similar position if the correct documents aren’t in place and properly updated (working under the assumption that most people don’t want their ex-spouses to be responsible for their decisions in the event they’re incapacitated). That being said, the facts are still too murky to rush to judgment and label this particular circumstance a “celebrity estate planning fail.” (There are several scenarios whereby this strange confluence of events is actually advantageous to Lamar, such as the fact that he is allegedly estranged from most of his biological family; at least somebody is designated to make these decisions for him.)

Therefore, it is important to address inconsistencies or gaps that may be created in your estate plan following a divorce or any other change in life circumstances.

Everyone, regardless of age, income or wealth, should have an estate plan. At Attwood Marshall Lawyers, we advise our clients to view their estate planning as a way to manage and preserve their assets and wishes while they are alive (as evidenced by Lamar’s situation),  by working with your Lawyer and other professionals to ensure that your assets will be dispersed according to your wishes once you do pass away.

Even if you don’t feel like you have a lot of money, you probably have an opinion about how it should be used or, more importantly, who can access it upon your death. Estate planning is particularly important for families with young children as a tool to name a legal guardian for your children if you were to die whilst they were still under the age of 18 years.

While no one likes to think about death, a great gift families can give each other this Christmas is having their affairs in order before an illness or death forces one to do so which in some cases may be too late.

So as all the craziness of the Christmas period begins, as you are writing your Christmas card list, planning Christmas lunch, and watching season 11 of Keeping up with the Kardashians which premiered on E! this week don’t forget to keep up with your estate plan and plan for the security and protection of your loved ones.

For enquiries please contact Donna Tolley on direct line 07 5506 8241, email dtolley@attwoodmarshall.com.au or freecall 1800 621 071.

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Melissa Tucker

Melissa Tucker

  • Senior Associate
  • Wills and Estates
  • Direct line: (07) 5553 5803
  • Mobile: 0411 046 805