Colorado Probate Blog - Wade Ash Woods Hill & Farley, P.C.

Controversy in the Estate of Mickey Rooney

The legendary screen actor Mickey Rooney died on April 7, 2014, leaving behind his wife, Jan, eight children and three step-children. During the last few years of his life, Mr. Rooney and his wife of 37 years were separated, but not divorced. As the result of prolonged litigation, in which Mr. Rooney accused some of his children of physical and financial abuse, a court-appointed conservator was managing his financial affairs. On March 11, 2014, Mr. Rooney signed a Will which left his estate to one step-son, as that step-son had been caring for Mr. Rooney during the last years of his life. Shortly after his death, Mr. Rooney's widow and Mr. Rooney's biological children all filed lawsuits contesting the validity of the Will. The children contend the step-son exerted undue influence over Mr. Rooney, resulting in a Will that disinherited them. Mrs. Rooney claims that in written agreements between herself and Mr. Rooney's conservator following her separation from Mr. Rooney, she never waived her rights as his surviving spouse. Most states, including Colorado, give surviving spouses the right to inherit from the deceased spouse, based on the length of the marriage and the assets of the spouses. The executor of the estate stated the agreements between Mrs. Rooney and Mr. Rooney executed upon their separation explicitly waived her right to inherit from his estate. The executor also stated Mrs. Rooney did not waive her rights as a surviving spouse for purposes of social security and pension benefits. The sad fact is that Mr. Rooney died with very few assets (approximately $18,000 in personal property) and with large medical bills and amounts owed to the government. However, the potential for rights to likeness, royalties, and other intangible valuables may create an incentive to move forward on these Will contests. After payment of taxes, debts and attorneys, it is doubtful anyone in Mr. Rooney's family will walk away with anything besides memories.

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