Ric Ocasek, lead singer of The Cars and successful record producer, married Sport Illustrated swimsuit model, Paulina Porizkova, in 1989. When Ocasek passed away on September 15, 2019, it was Porizkova who discovered his body in the home they still shared, even though they started divorce proceedings in May of 2018.
It turns out that Ocasek sought legal advice and took steps to cut-off Porizkova and her spousal rights by signing a new New York last will a few weeks before he died. Ocasek claimed that Porizkova “abandoned” him and she should not be entitled to the spousal elective share. According to Porizkova, the two were living together throughout their “amicable” divorce.
So, what would happen if the Ocasek and Porizkova were Florida residents? Is abandonment a legal issue or just something to deal with in therapy?
In Florida, spouses have the right to elect to receive a share of the estate, even when they are disinherited. Some States, NOT FLORIDA, waive that right when the spouse is found to have “abandoned” the person who died, or in various other ways. Florida, on the other hand does not have such rules. Florida looks at marriage like a light switch; it’s either on, or it’s off. We don’t have a notion of “legally separated” or “abandoned” or “common law marriage.” In Florida, you’re either married or you’re not. Another difference in Florida law is that our Florida elective share combines both probate and non-probate assets. Not all States include the non-probate assets in the elective share bucket.
Another issue (as I see it) is that a written claim of “abandonment” is not abandonment. This seems like a terrible idea as ultimately, it’s up to a probate judge to decide if Porizkova really did “abandon” Ocasek. Just because his will said she did, does not mean that the judge has to agree. Instead, it will be based on the testimony and evidence presented in probate court. These are all things we try to avoid when drafting an estate plan.
You’ll be happy to know that Porizkova recently settled with the estate and WE learn that abandonment has no place in a Florida last will.