The Larry King Legacy

Larry King, the legendary talk-show host, lived a long and successful life. He hosted “Larry King Live” for over 25 years, married seven women, and had five children. Despite many years of health problems, he died at the old age of 87 on January 23, 2021. While the exact cause of his death was still being determined, his $2 million estate had already landed itself in probate court.

Larry King’s Estate Battle

Anyone who’s been married several times, and has kids from multiple blended family units, is likely to have a more complicated estate plan. Now, add in the money Larry King made over the years, and it’s only natural that fights can happen without the proper estate planning. King’s estate got even more complicated in the last few years of his life, and now it’s all playing out in probate court. But it all could have been avoided if King had put more emphasis on updating his estate plan regularly.

Estate Planning Pitfalls

King married his last wife, Shawn Southwick, in 1997. It wasn’t until 2015 that the couple created an estate plan, however. The plan named Shawn as King’s trustee, and the couple signed post-nuptial contracts. These contracts limited King’s power to leave bequests to his children. Four years after the estate plan was made, King had a stroke and suffered from multiple other severe health problems. Later that same year, King filed for divorce from Shawn after twenty-plus years of marriage. However, the divorce was never finalized.

While still waiting for the divorce to go through, King handwrote a one-page note. This note purported to leave his property equally among his five children. The document, known as holographic will in legal terms, comes with problems, however. Its language was ambiguous, parts of it scratched out, and it does not mention Shawn. After the sudden  passing of two of King’s children, he neglected to update the document again, and did not direct where the deceased children’s shares should go.

After King died, his remaining family members were left to pick up the pieces. One of his children petitioned to administrate the estate with the handwritten document. Shawn, who was still technically his wife, challenged the petition and alleged that in later years King had become susceptible to undue influence and that he lacked mental capacity. To further complicate matters, California is a community-property state, meaning that Shawn could have an independent right to fifty percent of any assets acquired during the marriage.


The unfortunate consequence of what has already become a courtroom battle is that the King estate will be tied up in a lengthy, costly, public battle for months or even years. Not only must the family grieve the untimely deaths of two of King’s children and the passing of the family patriarch, but they must also suffer the difficult and costly probate process in the public eye.

How to Protect Your Assets and Avoid Probate

The moral of the story? If King wanted to change his 2015 estate plan, he should have consulted an attorney instead of writing a holographic will. He never should have created a document that was so fragile in court. This is especially true given his blended family and frail health.

If Larry had followed the advice of an attorney, he could have avoided probate entirely. He could have saved his $2 million estate for his loved ones instead of the inevitable attorney fees. Estate plans should be regularly reviewed and updated, especially any time there are changes to the family. That includes marriage, divorce, children, death, etc.

King was a great and much-loved public figure. He interviewed wonderful people and spoke on powerful subjects. But he missed one very important lesson: plan ahead your life. Plan for your death, as difficult as it may be, before it’s too late. King and many other celebrity figures demonstrate an important lesson in why responsible estate planning is necessary. Click this link to learn about other famous celebrity probate nightmares. If you think this matters less for you because you haven’t had as many spouses and don’t own as many assets, think again. If you leave your estate open to this kind of happenstance, the money it will cost to fix it later will be more than the money it takes to fix it now.

To create or update your estate plan, give us a call at 702-731-2333. Our estate planning and asset protection attorneys would be happy to help.

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