A Probate Story in the News

A big probate story out of California this week has been all over the news. It’s a bit different and certainly highlights some very common probate themes in a very unorthodox way. There’s – apparently- very few assets to value, no operating business, perhaps no real heirs, probably no will.

There is, of course, a body. It’s that of the murderer, Charles Manson. He died in prison, aged 83, two months ago, and has yet to be buried. That’s because what was supposed to be a straightforward, simple matter has turned into anything but.

Because he died in prison, the California Department of Corrections has a set-in-stone, this-is-how-we-always-do-this procedure. The body is delivered to the county coroner, what the DOC deems as waste is throw out, what the DOC deems as personal property is stored, to be distributed as the probate court orders.

Simple. Especially as Manson had proclaimed for years that he had no will, no assets, had no relatives, was notoriously unpredictable with visitors and pen pals and almost always ended up alienating them. Unsurprisingly, all.

Shortly after his body was delivered to the county coroner, probate was opened, the court appointed an administrator, the administrator prepared to have the body cremated – as was Manson’s wish. Then, everything ground to a halt.

A man from Florida says he is Manson’s grandson and wants him buried; a man who says he was pen pals with Manson for decades wants probate moved to a court nearer him in northern California, he has filed what he says is Manson’s will. That will, perhaps unsurprisingly, names him as executor and sole heir. A man in Illinois claims to be Manson’s son and says he also has his will; a Los Angeles man claims some unspecified relationship and also claims to have a will.

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What should have been a straightforward and very fast probate is now a convoluted mess. Helter Skelter indeed.