I’ll Be There for You: Legal Issues Raised by Beloved Actor’s Death

streeteasy-300x199The recent death of Matthew Perry, best known for playing “Chandler Bing” on the popular sitcom Friends, has deeply affected many of our readers.  Although Perry was known for his fabulous sense of humor, the dark side of his life was notable for his addiction to alcohol and drugs, almost causing his death numerous times.  His painful life was documented in his memoir entitled Friends, Lovers and the Big Terrible Thing.

The Emmy nominated actor may be “The One with Estate Issues.”  Although this author is not privy to the details of Mr. Perry’s estate, this post will discuss some of the estate concerns that could arise.  Mr. Perry died at his home in California.  Most if not all of Mr. Perry’s estate will be determined by California law as a result.  However, if he happened to have owned a pied-a-terre in Manhattan, the disposition of that property would be determined by an ancillary proceeding in New York after the completion of any California proceeding.  The remainder of this post will address the legal result as if Mr. Perry had died in New York, since the legal matters covered by this blog deal with New York law.

It must be determined whether or not Mr. Perry had a Will.  If there was a Will, it would be subject to a probate proceeding, whereby the Will would be submitted to the Surrogate’s Court and Letters Testamentary would be issued to the named Executor.  In order for a Will to be valid, the testator (person making the Will) needs to have mental capacity and not be impaired by alcohol or drugs when signing the document.  Certainly, a person such as Mr. Perry may have had issues concerning mental capacity when signing a Will.  However, experienced attorneys who properly conduct the will execution ceremony will not proceed if their client appears impaired at the time of signing.  Likewise, the witnesses should simultaneously sign a “self-proving affidavit” whereby they are confirming that the testator was of sound mind and under no physical or mental impairment that would affect his capacity to make a valid Will.

If Mr. Perry died without a Will, his estate would be determined pursuant to an administration proceeding.  Those relatives surviving in the closest degree of relationship would inherit his close to two hundred million dollar estate.  In Mr. Perry’s case, his divorced parents would inherit all of his estate.  Unfortunately, Mr. Perry was never married and did not have children, as was his desire.

Curiously, Mr. Perry wished to be remembered for his desire to assist others in staying sober, more than by the fame resulting from Friends.  In life, he transformed a property that he owned in Malibu to the “Perry House,” a sober living facility for men.  It would not be surprising to discover that Mr. Perry established a method to donate to such causes upon his death.  If he had made a bequest in his Will to a particular charitable organization, the estate would need to serve a notice of probate and a copy of the Will on the New York Attorney General.

A qualified attorney may have suggested that Mr. Perry create a trust for the benefit of a charity aligned with his values or to establish a new charity for the benefit of the addiction community.  Charitable trusts also need to register with the Attorney General.  For instance, a charitable remainder trust is irrevocable, provides income to the donor during life and at death the remaining assets are delivered to the charity.  A charitable lead trust delivers assets in reverse order, meaning first to the charity and then to any non-charitable interest.

We are available to advise as to estate planning mechanisms designed with our client’s capacities and charitable interests.

Contact Information