If you’ve been watching FX’s The People v. OJ Simpson – it’s mesmerizing despite having lived through it – you couldn’t help but be struck by the scene where a distressed Juice is getting ready to turn himself in. He’s high on a pill cocktail, off the rails upset at the prospect of no bail and staying in jail through a long trial.
Before he picks up a gun, before he follows AC to the infamous white Bronco and leads the LAPD on the slowest police chase in history, he sits behind a desk, writes a farewell letter to his fans, and composes his last will and testament.
O.J. before the trial was very, very wealthy. A quick shot of his house in Brentwood shows an original Rockwell over the fireplace. Remember, O.J.’s at the height of his popularity, he’s still on TV, still doing movies, still jumping over luggage in airports.
About that will: it’s handwritten and has no witness signatures – though a distraught Robert Kardashian saw him sign it. In law, that’s known as a holographic will and is, believe it or not, considered valid in just over half the states in the county. Connecticut is not one of them.
In California – perhaps because of its history as a frontier, gold rush territory – holographic wills are accepted. With three requirements: the sections of the will pertaining to dispositions of property must be in the testator’s handwriting, it must be signed, and the testator must have made the will while he was ‘of sound mind.’
The will in the People v. O.J. is hand printed by ‘Juice’ and signed. It is not clear if he included a happy face in his signature as he did on the farewell note, but it’s signed. Under California law, it is considered valid.
But – and it’s a big but – there is a significant difference between a valid will and one that can withstand a challenge.
In this case, had the Bronco chase turned out differently, O.J.’s will contest may well have become the trial of the century.
First, foremost, challengers to the will – and considering the circumstances, there were sure to be many – would start on ‘was O.J, of sound mind’ when he wrote the will? He was drugged, scared, and, according to Robert Kardashian, suicidal. Not the qualities of a ‘sound mind’, yet debatable – over weeks, if not .
Technical attacks on the will’s validity would certainly follow – the California statutes are clear, the dispositive portions of a holographic will must be in the testator’s handwriting. The will in The People v. O.J. Simpson is clearly printed. Does the fact O.J. printed it satisfy that requirement? Some very good attorneys would, convincingly, argue no. Some very good attorneys would, convincingly, argue yes.
Even if the all the challenges to the will failed, there would still be a significant issue: O.J. left his sizable estate to a seven and a five-year-old. Not great estate planning. Deciding who would act as guardian and trustee would require a whole new round of exhaustive litigation.