Larry King’s handwritten will complicates the fight over talk-show host’s estate

Shawn King stands behind Larry King, hugging him around the neck
Late talk-show host Larry King with wife Shawn King in 2015.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

The fight for the estate of legendary broadcaster Larry King is getting ugly.

Shawn King, who had been married to the newsman since 1997, is contesting a handwritten amendment to the “Larry King Live” star’s will and has gone to court to contest his son Larry King Jr.‘s emergency move to become a special administrator of the estate.

Reports of the handwritten will surfaced last week and Shawn King — née Shawn Southwick — was notably omitted from the 2019 document, known as a holographic will. The document left the talk-show host’s estate, initially estimated at $2 million, to his five children, two of whom died in 2020.

Shawn King argued that the holographic will might have been written under questionable circumstances.

King died last month after being hospitalized with COVID-19.

The hand-scrawled document, submitted in Los Angeles Superior Court on Feb. 10 by King Jr., was written in October 2019, several months after King had a heart attack and two months after he had filed for divorce from his seventh wife. That divorce was never finalized. (The couple also attempted to dissolve their marriage in 2010 but reconciled after their petitions were filed.)

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King’s note, peppered with grammatical errors, said he wants his funds to be “divided equally among” his five children.

A screenshot of the holographic will submitted to Los Angeles Superior Court on Feb. 10, 2021, in Larry King's estate case.
(Los Angeles Superior Court)

“This is my Last Will & Testament. It should replace all previous writings,” said the letter, obtained by The Times. “In the event of my death, any day after the above date I want 100% of my funds to be divided equally among my children Andy, Chaia, Lary Jr Chance & Cannon.”

His daughter Chaia died from lung cancer and his son Andy suffered a fatal heart attack within weeks of each other last summer. King had adopted Andy after marrying his mother, the late Alene Akins, and the couple had Chaia together after divorcing and remarrying. The host’s children with Shawn King are Chance and Cannon.

The emergency petition filed by King Jr., the media personality’s son from a brief marriage to Annette Kaye, said that his father and Shawn King “were actively involved in ongoing dissolution proceedings” and “were residing separately from each other since 2019, and were living separate and apart at the time of Mr. King’s death.”

As such, King Jr. said, the California Probate Code gives him “a clear statutory priority” over Shawn King to act as the special administrator in the estate.

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The petition estimated that King had $2 million in personal property but did not yet include estimates for annual gross incomes for real or personal property or any encumbrances.

On Tuesday, Shawn King filed her objection to King Jr.’s petition and asked the court to deny admission of the holographic will.

“Larry was not pushing the divorce and was generally nonresponsive and refused to participate in the divorce proceeding,” said the objection, obtained by The Times. “He gave no indication that he actually wanted to pursue divorce (other than the initial filing of the Petition for Dissolution). Although entitled to seek trial preference because of his age, he did not avail himself of this option, and allowed the dissolution proceeding, which was filed in August 2019, to languish.”

Shawn King’s objection also said that after the filing, she and King went to counseling, were still speaking and “reconciliation remained possible until Larry’s health conditions made that impractical.”

The widow’s attorney argued that the holographic will was “an ineffective codicil” to the original will and “likely a nullity.”

“[T]he Holographic Will does not revoke Larry’s former Will, but purports to supersede Larry’s Will as to the dispositive provisions,” the objection said. Her attorney argued that the couple had two postnuptial agreements that placed limits on Larry King’s ability to make testamentary gifts to his children, and the holographic will violates the terms of those agreements.

Shawn King’s attorney also argued that in the last few years of his life, Larry King was “highly susceptible to outside influences” and “of questionable mental capacity,” and, when he wrote the amendment, was “possibly already under the influence of pre-operative medication” following a stroke.

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Speaking Monday to Page Six, the “Remington Steele” and “WWE Raw” actress said that they “had a very watertight family estate plan” that they wrote as a couple in 2015.

“It still exists, and it is the legitimate will. Period. And I fully believe it will hold up,” she said.

Although the final allotments would be relatively small, she said she’s fighting the will on “principle.”

A court date is set for March 25.

An attorney for King Jr. declined to comment. Reps for Shawn King did not immediately respond to The Times’ requests for comment.