By: Sarah Stewart Legal Group
Any superhero or comic book fan is familiar with Stanley Martin Lieber, otherwise known as Stan Lee. He is the powerhouse co-creator behind most of the Marvel comic book characters that we all know and love. From Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, and Spiderman to the X-Men, Stan Lee created superheroes that families have, and will, enjoy for generations.
The entire Marvel fandom mourned when Stan Lee’s death was announced on November 12, 2018. It has been reported that Stan Lee left an estate between $50-80 million behind. Stan was survived by one brother, Larry Lieber, and one daughter, Joan Celia (JC) Lee.
Over the last few years, reports have surfaced of strife within the Lee family. There were lawsuits filed among confidantes, reports of elder abuse, and allegations of undue influence by friends and family just this year.
Stan signed an Affidavit in February stating he and his wife supported JC Lee throughout her life, and he was concerned that she couldn’t properly handle money matters. The declaration also claimed JC demanded Stan Lee convey family property to her and consult her before making changes to his estate plan.
Reports of physical altercations between Stan, his wife, and JC about money have surfaced. Due to these problems, Stan’s declaration stated JC, and several other named individuals, were not allowed to serve as an administrator over his trust, or any other assets of his estate. It is unclear at this time if the Declaration would be held valid in a California court if questioned.
Though reports have indicated Stan Lee had a Trust, Power of Attorney, and other estate planning documents, the extent of his estate planning remains unknown at this time. If Stan Lee did not have a Trust in place, or did not properly title his assets into his Trust, the estate will likely have to go through a Court procedure called probate.
Under a probate, if Stan Lee had a Will, the terms of the Will govern the outcome of the litigation, unless undue influence or fraud are proven to be present at the time the Will was signed. If no Will or other estate planning documents exist, the laws of the State of California will dictate who manages the assets of the estate and who receives the distributions of the estate. There won’t be much family members can do to change those distributions.
Given Stan Lee’s declarations, and the reports over the past few years, a probate could get messy. And, if he didn’t properly plan, his true wishes, as outlined in his Declaration, may not be followed.
Keep your eyes and ears open in the next few months to see how this saga will play out. It will be an interesting case study to help you see what can happen in the legal world of estate planning.
But, in the meantime, contact your trusted professionals to make sure your estate plan is in order and that your wishes for your own family will be followed.