A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, Darth Vader (“Vader”) died at the end of the movie ‘Return of the Jedi’. Movie-goers around the world flocked to the cinema to see the story of Vader’s redemption and to learn about the twisted Skywalker family tree. I was 9 when ‘Jedi’ was released, and it was awesome.
When I see the Star Wars movies now, I know I am getting old because I start asking questions like, “Did someone have to administer Vader’s estate?”, “How much did Vader get paid”, and “what sort of property would a guy like that have in his estate?” In this blog post, I’ll take a look at what administering Vader’s estate may have looked like. In my next post I will analyze some of the property interests he may have owned at his death and see if there are some lessons to be learned from Vader’s estate. First, a few assumptions:
1. If Vader lived in the United States in 2012, he would probably choose to live in Vader, WA for obvious reasons. Let’s instead assume that Vader was based out of the Empire’s Portland, OR office and maintained a sweet penthouse condo in Portland's Pearl District as his home.
2. Let’s also assume that Vader died in 2012 and that he had no estate planning documents. If there was important property that was going to pass via Vader’s Last Will or that was stored in a safe deposit box, Vader probably would have mentioned it to Luke as Vader was dying in Episode 6. He did not.
3. Luke’s Aunt Beru and Uncle Owen were killed by stormtroopers on Tatooine during the early part of the first Star Wars movie (Episode 4). For our analysis, let’s assume that Beru and Owen had no living parents, siblings, or children when they died. Let's also assume that Owen and Beru never legally adopted Luke (in order to stay off of the Empire's radar).
4. In Episode 1, we learn that Anakin Skywalker (the little kid who would become Darth Vader) had no father. His mother claims that his birth was the result of some sort of immaculate conception. According to Google, Anakin may have been conceived by Darth Sidious' master using the Dark Side of the Force. We do not have a statute for immaculate conception via Sith Lords in Oregon, so let’s assume that Vader’s father (whomever it is) died before Vader did.
5. We will treat Vader as a member of the armed forces, rather than a high-ranking government employee, independent contractor, or owner of a partnership interest. We will further assume that the families of all of Vader's victims have no valid claims for the wrongful death, murder, torture, etc of their loved ones.
6. Finally, let's assume that the commentators on Fox News are correct when they allege that the current federal government is analogous to the Empire in Star Wars. For our example, that means the same tax code, same forms and the same procedures (and the same relaxed gun control policies).
Note: For our not-so-geeky readers, there are 6 Star Wars movies: Episodes 4-6 were released from 1977 – 1985 and Episodes 1-3 were released from 1999 – 2005.
Here is how the estate administration would probably shake out here in Oregon:
At the time of Vader’s death in 'Return of the Jedi (Episode 6), he had two living children (Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker). Vader’s wife (Padme Admidala) predeceased Vader, as she died at the end of Episode 3 in one of the more foolish deaths in cinematic history when she “lost the will to live”. Vader’s mother died during Episode 2 and we are assuming Vader’s father predeceased him. Vader's step-brother Owen was killed early in Episode 4. No reference was ever made to Vader having any other siblings. In summary, Vader’s parents, step-brother, and spouse predeceased him, he had no other siblings, he left two surviving children, and he had no grandchildren.
ORS § 112 includes provisions for the distribution of assets of Oregon residents who die intestate (without a will). Vader’s estate would be administered under Oregon’s intestacy statutes in our example. Because Vader did not have a surviving spouse, the administrators of Vader’s estate would look to ORS § 112.045 to determine the distributions passing to people other than a surviving spouse. Under ORS §112.045(1), property would pass, “To the issue of the decedent. If the issue are all of the same degree of kinship to the decedent, they shall take equally, but if of unequal degree, then those of more remote degrees take by representation.”
In our example, since Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia were Vader’s children, they are of the same degree of kinship. Vader had no other children (alive or dead), so Luke and Leia would each inherit 50% of Vader’s assets. Vader did not name a Personal Representative to handle his affiars (since he left no will). The court would appoint a Personal Representative in this case. While most of our clients are not Jedi Masters or Sith Lords, many of them do die without valid Last Wills in place. This is the sort of analysis we have to go through when that happens.
One remaining issue to be discussed in our analysis of Vader’s estate distribution is as follows: Luke was arguably responsible for Vader’s death. If a court found that Vader died as a result of Luke striking Vader during their final lightsaber battle in Episode 6, then Leia would likely inherit 100% of Vader’s estate. ORS 112.465 provides that, “property that would have passed by reason of the death of a decedent to a person who was a slayer or an abuser of the decedent, whether by intestate succession, by will, by transfer on death deed or by trust, passes and vests as if the slayer or abuser had predeceased the decedent.” My collegue Steve Kantor was quick to point out that Luke could likely argue self defense. I countered by arguing that Luke started the fight. Steve countered by calling me a nerd. There is also the possibility that it was an assisted suicide ("Luke, help me take this mask off..."). These (and other) arguments about the slayer statute are beyond the scope of this article.
The distribution of Vader’s assets is fairly straightforward, since he left two surviving children and no one else. The composition of Vader's assets is more complex and will be the subject of a future post.