Actress Naya Rivera, best known for her work on the TV series Glee, has been presumed dead by local authorities after an apparent boating accident at Lake Piru in Ventura County. Like many celebrity deaths, this tragedy is a good reminder that tomorrow is never guaranteed. 

Rivera, 33, and her ex-husband, actor Ryan Dorsey, share custody of their 4-year-old boy, who was found alone on a pontoon boat following his mother’s disappearance. Because of the joint custody situation, there is likely no issue around the physical guardianship and Dorsey will gain full custody. It would be a different story if Rivera had sole custody, however.

Moving forward, should Rivera's siblings and parents wish to be in her son's life and Dorsey raises objection or denies them visitation, Rivera's family can petition the court for visitation, subject to Family Code § 3102. 

What happens to Rivera's estate is less clear without any knowledge of her estate plan. If proper planning was not done, there might be a need for guardianship of the estate, assuming she left everything to her children, or worse, died intestate (without a will).

In 2018, Rivera sold her home in Los Feliz for $3.55 million and is worth an estimated $5 million according to Celebrity Net Worth. She also owns a Los Angeles-based children’s clothing line called Jojo and Izzy.

It is not yet known whether Rivera had a Will or Trust, or any other estate planning documents in place. If someone dies intestate and leaves an inheritance to minor child, that child cannot legally manage the property on their own. Instead, someone else must step in and manage those assets on their behalf until the child is old enough.

Ideally, Rivera would have set up a Living Trust by which her estate avoids a long, costly probate process. In this scenario, since her son is a minor, she would have named a trustee or a fiduciary to manage her assets until her son is old enough to receive them in a manner outlined in her estate plan.

Tragically, many young successful people fail to contemplate their mortality and plan for their loved ones. We certainly hope that she had the foresight to create a plan to care for her young son in the event of her passing. 

Our estate planning attorneys at Sandoval Legacy Group can help you learn more about how a Will and Trust can help your family avoid legal quagmires resulting from unexpected death. 

By Custody Queens attorneys Kristen Holstrom