Larry King's Widow Challenges Legitimacy of Handwritten Will in Estate Battle

Larry King attends the  Los Angeles Community College 2019 Gala - Getty-H 2019
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Larry King's widow is pushing back against an effort by his son to wrest control of the late journalist's estate based on a nearly illegible handwritten will.

Probate battles are usually messy, but here there are a few complicating factors: A divorce was pending between Larry and Shawn Southwick King and the talk show host didn't learn of Larry King Jr.'s existence until his son was an adult. Shawn also contends she recently discovered Larry had a "secret" bank account through which he gave more than $266,000 of joint money to Larry Jr. without her knowledge and she is entitled to declare those gifts void and demand it be returned.

Larry Jr. on Feb. 10 filed an ex parte application seeking to become the special administrator of his father's estate, arguing that because Shawn and his father were living apart, he should be in charge of making sure bills are paid and protecting the iconic newsman's publicity and likeness rights. In support of his argument, he submitted a holographic will that's dated two months after King filed for divorce in 2019.

Meanwhile, King's formal July 7, 2015 will names Shawn executor of his estate, and she maintains that Larry didn't really act like he wanted a divorce. They had gone to counseling after he filed for dissolution, he wasn't participating in the divorce proceedings and reconciliation was on the table until his health took a turn for the worse and it became "impractical."

While Larry Jr. argued that King's LK Productions and Larry King Enterprises had "stalled" without anyone to run them, Shawn says they're merely his loan outs and there's no ongoing business to speak of. Larry Jr. also points to unpaid bills (King's assistant and healthcare aids are owed pay, for example), but Shawn says there's no money in the probate estate to pay those, as it's all in joint bank accounts or the Larry and Shawn King 2015 Family Trust, which she controls. That trust also gives her control of King's "deceased personality rights."

In this context, "holographic" means handwritten. And in California there are very specific standards such a document has to meet to be deemed valid. If the handwriting is confirmed as the decedent's, and the document was executed later than any other will and is inconsistent with earlier provisions, the court will have to establish whether the person had the capacity to make such a change.

The one-page document is embedded below. It's dated Oct. 17, 2019 and says he wants 100 percent (which is written above something else that had been scratched out) of his funds to be divided equally among his five children (two of whom have since died) and that this will "should replace all previous writings."

Shawn argues that, even if the document is valid, it doesn't change much.

"The Holographic Will does not nominate an executor but simply purports to change the disposition of assets subject to Larry’s testamentary disposition," states her objection filing. "The Holographic Will states that 'It should replace all previous writings.' That statement is not sufficient to revoke the prior Will. At most, it demonstrates an intent to change the dispositive scheme, but not change the executor. Further, the Holographic Will violates the terms of two separate post-nuptial transmutation agreements entered into between Shawn and Larry and therefore has no legal effect whatsoever."

Further, Shawn argues "during the last few years of his life, Larry was highly susceptible to outside influences and at the time he purportedly executed the Holographic Will was of questionable mental capacity, having recently suffered a stroke and about to undergo a medical procedure (and possibly already under the influence of pre-operative medication)."

Shawn is asking the court to reject Larry Jr.'s petition to be appointed special administrator and deny admission of the holographic will. A hearing is currently set for Feb. 24.