An Estate Fight May Be Coming Over Ric Ocasek’s Estate
Updated: Apr 10, 2020
Despite the disparity in their ages and physical appearances, Ocasek and Porizkova’s relationship lasted for 30 years. When he died September 15th of this year, it was Porizkova who discovered his body in the home they still shared, even though they had been in the midst of divorce proceedings since May of 2018.
And it’s the divorce that now looms over Ric Ocasek’s estate, setting the stage for a likely court battle. Normally, when someone dies in the midst of a divorce, the couple is still treated as having been married. In other words, the spouse is still a spouse, even if he or she wouldn’t have been a spouse if the divorce had been finalized sooner. This gives the spouse - Paulina Porizkova in this case - certain rights to the estate.
Ocasek though took steps to cut-off Porizkova’s spousal rights by signing a new will a few weeks before he died, just before going in for surgery. Specifically, according to the New York Post, Ocasek’s will stated that he excluded Porizkova as a beneficiary because of the divorce, along with two of his six children. But he went further and stated that Porizkova “abandoned” him and should not be entitled to any elective share.
This language is important because New York law - like the laws of most states - gives spouses the right to elect to receive a share of the estate, even when they are disinherited. That right can be lost when the spouse is found to have “abandoned” the person who died, or in certain other ways.
The language in Ocasek’s will gives ammunition to his executor to contest any election rights that Porizkova tries to assert. But, this doesn’t mean that Porizkova will automatically lose. In fact, from her social media postings, Porizkova said she was still friendly and supportive of Ric Ocasek, even bringing him his “Sunday morning coffee” when she discovered his body in the New York townhouse that they still shared.
Ultimately, it will be up to a probate judge to decide if Porizkova really did “abandon” Ocasek. Just because his will said she did, it does not mean that the judge has to agree. Instead, it will be based on the testimony and evidence presented in court.
What’s at stake? About $1.7 million, potentially. The court filing to open Ocasek’s estate listed $5 million in copyrights, and another $115,000 in personal property and cash. But this would not include any assets held in trust, joint accounts with others, or life insurance or similar assets that have beneficiary designations.
Under New York law, if her elective rights are upheld, Porizkova would be entitled to one-third of all estate assets, factoring in these types of assets that pass outside the estate.
So if Ocasek and Porizkova had a joint bank account, for example, that would be deducted from any elective rights she has. Whether other assets exist that are not listed in the probate court filing will be important.
If there are none, then $1.7 million will be on the line, and we will likely see a court battle over whether or not Paulina Porizkova really did abandon Ocasek.
Without the new will, she may have inherited everything - depending on what Ocasek’s prior will provided. So Ric Ocasek gets high marks for redoing his will before he died even before the divorce was final. Many people - celebrities like John Singleton included - make the mistake of waiting too long to update estate planning documents after life events like marriage, divorce, and new children.
Not many people in the middle of a divorce decide to update their will or trust before the divorce is final. Ric Ocasek was smart to be proactive and plan ahead. Now his loved ones who he wanted to inherit will receive most, and perhaps all, of his estate, which would not have happened if he died with an old will that left everything to his wife.
One warning though. Sometimes, celebrity estate fights after someone dies in the midst of a divorce can be very ugly, even with updated estate planning documents. That’s a story the family of Dennis Hopper knows all too well.
Remember, as life changes so does your wishes. Be sure to regularly review and update your legal documents, such as a Last Will & Testament, your choice of executor, beneficiaries on investment accounts, and Trusts, just to name a few.
Feel free to contact me if there are any questions.