Celebrity Estate Lessons: Gary Coleman
April 11th, 2022
Gary Coleman's life was never short of financial problems. In 1989 he famously sued his parents for mismanagement of his income while working as a child actor on the TV show "Diff'rent Strokes." The Trust fund that was created for his earnings was supposed to be valued at up to $18 million, but when Coleman wanted to access the money at the age of 17, he discovered it only had $220,000. He eventually settled with his parents for $1.3 million. Coleman was plagued by health issues throughout his life, which caused his short stature. These health problems continued to his adulthood, which no doubt contributed to his declaring bankruptcy in 1999.
His financial problems continued even after his death. Coleman passed in 2010 from a brain hemorrhage sustained from an accidental fall. Prior to his death, he had written Wills in 1999 and 2005. The more recent Will states that Anna Gray, Coleman's assistant and ex-girlfriend was to receive his estate.
Coleman also had previously married Shannon Price, but they divorced in 2008. However, Price claims that a codicil (basically an amendment) to his Will was written in 2007. She also argues that her relationship with Coleman continued after the divorce, constituting a common-law marriage.
After the court did more research, they discovered that the codicil was handwritten. While this doesn't immediately invalidate a document, it can make one suspect. The couple was also legally separated and the court found that Price was abusive to Coleman to the extent that he had taken out a restraining order against her earlier that year. This caused the judge to rule against Price, sticking with the 2005 Will and making Gray his beneficiary.
There are a couple morals here. First of all, when creating a Trust it's important to name someone you can depend on as the Trustee. There are also provisions that can be written into a Trust to make it easier to remove a Trustee if they are not handling their responsibilities the way they should.
As far as the estate plan itself, Coleman seems to have done a good job. However, if Coleman had wanted Price to get the money, it would have been very important to update this paperwork. Especially in cases of common-law marriages or other non-traditional couplings, a Will would be the only way to guarantee that your belongings would go to your partner.