Everyone who hasn’t been under a literary rock the last few decades knows that Michael Crichton was a prolific writer. Literary success came to him relatively early in life with ‘The Andromeda Strain’ and continued with a number of notable novels before Mr. Crichton hit the big time with ‘Jurassic Park’, its subsequent movie adaptation, and of course the creation of the television show ‘E.R.’ that introduced the world to George Clooney (for those of you who weren’t fans of ‘Facts of Life’ or ‘Roseanne’.)
It turns out that Mr. Crichton was a prolific husband as well as novelist. He married five times and divorced four of his wives. His last wife was six months pregnant when Mr. Crichton unexpectedly died. While he did not make any mention of his unborn child in his will, he did go out of his way to omit all his ex-wives. Reportedly his will explicitly mentioned his intention to prevent any of his ex-wives from inheriting any portion of his estate (not so much ‘disclosure’ as ‘closure’ issues, we would hazard to guess), but made no mention of his yet to be born son.
California law provides that a child that is born or adopted after a will is created (and thus left out) will inherit under the will as if the child was alive when the will was created. There are of course exceptions to this (what’s a law without exceptions). Basically, unless the will expressly and intentionally leaves out the child, the child is provided for in other ways, or the estate is left to the other parent of the child, the omitted child will inherit a portion of the deceased parent’s estate. Mr. Crichton apparently did nothing that would fall under any of the exceptions. Therefore in 2010, a California court held that his son, born after his death, had a right to inherit a share of his estate (over the objections of Mr. Crichton’s daughter.)
Thus ends (for now) the saga of Mr. Crichton’s ‘rising son.’ So if you think you may have some kids out there that you may not know about when you are writing your will or trust (difficult to imagine if you’re a woman, but you never know – those epidurals have all sorts of side effects), think about if you really want them to inherit any of your estate. If you don’t, make sure your estate planning attorney knows about your wishes. If you do, it’s not a bad idea to specifically state your intention to include all your worldwide progeny in your will too. You’ll save your beneficiaries from probate litigation and all sorts of unpleasant disclosures.