Brett J. Wasserman
What if Darth Vader was a California resident and didn’t have a Will when he died?
In honor of Star Wars day we dive into what would have happened if Darth Vader had been a California resident without a Will when he died otherwise known as intestacy! Luuuuuuke....you're the big winner!
First, let’s back up and acknowledge that Vader was briefly married to Queen Amidala, which unless they signed a Prenuptial Agreement, would have created a “community” and the potential for “community property.” However, since separate property before marriage remains separate property after marriage, unless there is a “transmutation” of the property to community property by written agreement, all of Queen Amidala’s family treasures remain her separate property even after the marriage. Regardless, since Queen Amidala pre-deceased Vader, there was no community property to be considered at Vader’s death.
Next, if Vader did not have a Will at his death, it would need to be determined if he had any real property or an Estate valued at over $150,000, which would require a formal Probate of his Estate. If Vader had no real property and his Estate was valued at less than $150,000, his heirs could sign an Affidavit to Transfer Personal Property and avoid having to go to Court. However, if Vader owned real property or had an Estate valued at over $150,000, a Petition for Letters of Administration would need to be filed to have an Administrator appointed to pay Vader’s creditors and distribute his remaining assets to his heirs.
Who would be a creditor of Vader’s Estate? For one, Emperor Palpatine’s Estate. Let’s recall, Vader threw the Emperor down the Death Star’s reactor core to his death. Being an Evil Emperor and all, Palpatine likely had a slew of lawyer’s at his service and may have filed a wrongful death suit against Vader. Granted, Palpatine was trying to kill Vader’s only son (more on that below), which could give credence to a defense of others affirmative defense for Vader. Or may Vader racked up a whole mess of credit card debt building the Death Star? Either way, the Courts will make sure Vader’s creditors are paid before any assets are distributed from his Estate.
Finally, who gets Vader’s assets?! Had he left a Will, Vader likely would have left his Estate to the Empire, even though he had a change of heart moments before his death. Typically, because Vader did not a living spouse, and as such no community property, his Estate would go to his children, Luke and Leia (both of which were alive), by right of representation (meaning each would get ½ of his Estate).
BUT, we’re not done! Leia was adopted! You may recall Bail and Breha Organa formally adopted Leia shortly after Amidala’s death. According to California law, the parent/child relationship is severed upon formal adoption unless the child is adopted by the spouse or surviving spouse of one of the natural parents (ie: if Amidala had re-married and Leia were adopted by Amidala’s new husband after her death). Therefore, Leia, as a result of her adoption into the Organa family, would no longer be entitled to a share of Vader’s Estate.
Thus, when Vader said “Luke, I am your Father,” he not only revealed himself as Luke and Leia’s biological father, but he formed the basis which entitled Luke to receive the entirety of his Estate. Was this what Vader would have wanted? We'd never know, because he didn't have a Will!