American screenwriter and producer Gene Roddenberry

American screenwriter and producer Gene Roddenberry

Gene Roddenberry was an American screenwriter and producer and is best known for creating the Star Trek television television series and science-fiction franchise.  The Star Trek franchise has produced story material for almost five decades; resulting in six television series consisting of 726 episodes, and twelve feature films. A thirteenth film is in production, and is expected to be released in 2016. Additionally, the popularity of the Star Trek universe and films inspired films, books, comic books, and video games.

Roddenberry was married twice, and had three children; two daughters with his first wife, and a son with his second wife. At the time of his death at age 74, his estate was worth $30 million. His will revealed that the majority of his wealth would be left to his second wife, Majel, whom he had been married to for 22 years, in a trust. He additionally left a lump sum to his children and his first wife, as well as a percentage share in the revenue from Star Trek movies, television shows and merchandise. He also included a clause in his will which stated that if anyone contested the will, they would be be immediately disinherited.

As is so often the case in blended families, his daughter from his first marriage contested the will, claiming that Majel had unduly influenced Roddenberry when he made his will. The case took several twists. The Los Angeles Superior Court removed the executor, Majel, ruling that there were improprieties in the trust. The court also ruled that he had hidden assets from his first wife during their divorce and ordered that he repay his first wife $4 million in punitive damages.

The California Court of Appeals eventually made the final ruling on the case, finding that Roddenberry’s orginal will would stand, that his first wife was no entitled to punitive damages and that the daughter who had contested the will would be disinherited. The five-year court battle ended when the daughter lost the case, the lump sum of $500,000 and the percentage of any Star Trek revenue.

In Queensland, the law doesn’t make it quite so easy to cut your children out of the will. In fact, the law presumes that spouses/partners, children and other dependants will be adequately provided for by a will. Section 41 of the Succession Act 1981 states that:

If any person (the “deceased person”) dies whether testate [with a Will] or intestate [without a Will] and in terms of the will or as a result of the intestacy adequate provision is not made from the estate for the proper maintenance and support of the deceased person’s spouse, child or dependant, the court may, in its discretion, on application by or on behalf of the said spouse, child or dependant, order that such provision as the court thinks fit shall be made out of the estate of the deceased person for such spouse, child or dependant.

Therefore a judge has reasonably wide power to determine what they think adequate provision and proper maintenance and support means. It’s true that this must be determined in a case-by-case basis. The court will take into account:

  • The Applicant’s financial position;
  • The size and nature of the deceased’s estate;
  • The totality of the relationship between the applicant and the deceased;
  • The relationship between the deceased and other persons who might have a claim against the estate (including beneficiaries); and
  • The age, capacities, means of other potential beneficiaries.

Although it is tempting to think that your will is impermeable, the truth is that the law requires will-makes to exercise a moral duty to provide for their immediate family members. The law provides a potential remedy for family members who feel they haven’t been provided for adequately, through contesting the will in court.

If you are a partner or spouse, child or stepchild or dependent (in limited circumstances) of a will-maker, and you feel you haven’t received a fair inheritance, you may be able to challenge the will.

Or if you’d like to ensure that your will is fair, clear and thorough, it’s important to speak to a specialist in succession law.

We can help with both situations. Contact us today for your FREE 10-minute phone consultation.