He was one of the greatest spy fiction writers of our era, and his movies and characters will certainly live on for decades, but for all his brilliance as a novelist, Tom Clancy was not good at plotting a satisfying end to his own estate.
When he died on October 1, 2013, at the age of 66, Clancy left behind five children from two marriages, the indelible character, Jack Ryan, and an estate worth $86 million. Unfortunately for his heirs, he also left behind a complicated and expensive problem with the estate planning documents he signed a few weeks before he died.
Like many wealthy people, Clancy had access to excellent attorneys and estate planning professionals, and they advised him to divide his assets into three trusts - one for his widow, a second for his widow that would pass on to his daughter from that second marriage when she died, and a third to be split among his four adult children from his first marriage.
In a codicil to his will that he signed just weeks before his death, he wrote:
That sentence implies that $4 million in estate taxes would need to be paid from one or more of the trusts, and Clancy probably didn't want his second wife to have to pay them. At least that's what his second wife and her attorneys argued.
After two years in court, and enormous legal fees, the matter was finally settled in 2016. As a result of that one sentence, four justices of Maryland's Supreme Court ruled that all estate taxes should be paid out of the children's trust, while three justices sided with the children. Ironically, the lawyer who drafted the codicil sided with Clancy's children, but the way it was written went against them.
As befits a novelist of Clancy's caliber, the story does not end there, however. Clancy had established a company called Jack Ryan Enterprises Ltd., which was to receive the rights to his iconic character. Clancy's first wife, Wanda King, filed a lawsuit in 2017 claiming that she is entitled to money from Clancy's books. King owns 40% of Jack Ryan Enterprises and asserted that she and her adult children should receive royalties from the ever more valuable Jack Ryan character - who incidentally was the basis for an 8 episode TV series on Amazon. As far as we can tell, that lawsuit has yet to be settled.
The clear and present danger for Clancy may have passed, but the lawsuit continues, which goes to show that estate planning, even for the rich and famous, can take some unexpected twists and turns into litigation gridlock.