Who would be the beneficiary of the estate of Darth Vader? The answer is more than just an exercise in Star Wars fiction; in fact, the answer can teach us important lessons about estate disputes in our real world. In case you did not read my earlier blog post, in which I asked the same question about Han Solo’s estate, you can find that post here.
Note: for those who are not familiar with Star Wars, yet who want to follow along with the discussion below, it’s important to known that Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader are the same person (Anakin took the name Darth Vader in Episode 3 when he fell to the dark side of the force).
Option #1: Obi-Wan Kenobi
Obi-Wan Kenobi was Anakin Skywalker’s mentor. Anakin even remarked that he was “like a father” to him. If Anakin had executed a Will early in his life, the logical beneficiary would have been Obi-Wan.
However, Obi-Wan and Anakin later had a falling out at the end of the Clone Wars whereby Obi-Wan left Anakin disarmed and disfigured at the end of their lightsaber duel on Mustafar (thereby requiring Anakin to don the mask of Darth Vader). As a result, it is exceptionally unlikely that Anakin would have left Obi-Wan as the beneficiary in his Will after that.
Perhaps Anakin forgot to update his Will, as many Americans forget to do upon the occurrence of major life events? Even then, later in life Anakin killed Obi-Wan in a lightsaber duel, meaning that Obi-Wan predeceased Anakin. As a result, Obi-Wan could not constitute the beneficiary under Anakin’s Will.
Option #2: The Jedi Order
Anakin was a Jedi Knight before he became Darth Vader. He made a vow to the Jedi Order to forsake attachments in order to serve the cause. Accordingly, it’s possible that Anakin would have executed a Will naming the Jedi Order as the sole beneficiary (similar to how some members of religious orders name their order as the sole beneficiary in their wills).
Interestingly, when Anakin became Darth Vader, he was instrumental in wiping out many Jedi and destroying the Jedi Order. So it’s unlikely that Anakin would have left the Jedi Order as the beneficiary of his estate. However, let us suppose several things: (a) that he mistakenly forgot to change his estate plan, (b) that he had a trust that was properly funded, and (c) that he had named the Jedi Order as the beneficiary of his trust. Who would take under the trust when the Jedi Order was eradicated?
Under the Virginia Uniform Trust Code, the doctrine of cy pres would likely apply. The doctrine of cy pres provides that “if a particular charitable purpose becomes unlawful, impracticable, impossible to achieve, or wasteful,” the trust does not fail, and the trust property does not revert to the settlor (the person who created the trust), but rather the court may “modify or terminate the trust by directing that the trust property be applied or distributed, in whole or in part, in a manner consistent with the settlor’s charitable purposes.” In other words, the judge can direct that the trust assets go to another charity that is similar in purpose to the charity that is no longer in existence.
This would create an interesting situation in the Star Wars universe. A judge would have to find another charity as similar as possible to the defunct Jedi Order. Would it pass to Luke Skywalker for his purposes in training a new generation of Jedi? Would it pass to another non-Jedi force user like Maz Kanata? Star Wars fans can feel free to e-mail me their thoughts.
Option #3: Princess Leia
Anakin married Padme Amidala at the end of Episode 2, and by Episode 3 she was pregnant with twins: Leia and Luke. Padme predeceased Anakin, when she passed away at the end of Episode 3, in part due to Anakin force-chocking her in a fit of rage while he was under the misimpression that Padme led Obi-Wan to Mustafar to capture Anakin. As a result, if Anakin had no written estate plan, his estate would pass via intestate succession to his children in equal shares.
But there’s a catch here: under Virginia law (as is the case in most states), the “slayer rule” prevents a person who murdered (or was involved in the voluntary manslaughter) of the deceased from inheriting any portion of the deceased’s estate (I wrote an entire blog post on the slayer rule, also referred to as the “slayer statute,” which can be accessed here.) We know that Leia was a general in the Rebellion, who played a leading role in the attack on the Second Death Star. While Darth Vader’s death appears to have numerous contributing factors, an argument can be made that the Rebellion’s attack on the Second Death Star (pursuant to which Luke Skywalker ended up engaging Darth Vader in lightsaber combat) was a cause of his death. Leia would likely argue, on the other hand, that the Rebellion’s attack was too remote of a cause; that Luke acted independently from the Rebellion; and that a military conflict could not constitute voluntary manslaughter let alone murder. Accordingly, it’s likely that a vigorously contested lawsuit would ensue over whether the slayer statute would prevent Princess Leia from inheriting Darth Vader’s estate.
Option #4: Luke Skywalker
Darth Vader’s other child – Luke Skywalker – would face the same problem as Princess Leia: the slayer statute. Luke significantly wounded Darth Vader in their lightsaber duel on the Second Death Star, disarming him and leaving him temporarily immobilized. Luke’s attack so weakened Vader that Vader wasn’t able to withstanding the fleeting lightning bolts from the Emperor when Vader valiantly returned to the light side to save Luke by throwing the Emperor off a ledge. Accordingly, an argument could be made that when Darth Vader died mere minutes later in his son’s arms, he died as a result of Luke’s manslaughter. As with Leia, Luke would seek to assert numerous defenses, including self-defense, military combat, etc. It would be interesting to see how a jury in a galaxy far, far away would decide that issue.
Option #5: The Emperor
After Anakin turned to the dark side of the force, ostensibly in an effort to save Padme from dying, he embraced the Emperor as his master and served him for decades until turning back again to the light side minutes prior to his own death. Accordingly, if Anakin had executed an estate plan in the final decades of his life, it seems likely that he would have named the Emperor as the beneficiary.
Any person contesting an estate plan of Darth Vader’s that named the Emperor as the sole beneficiary would likely have some strong arguments, given the nature of Vader’s relationship with the Emperor. The Emperor constantly deceived Darth Vader, lying to him on many occasions in order to turn him to the dark side of the force. Once Vader was turned, the Emperor told him another twisted half-truth: that Vader himself was the one who killed Padme – a statement that sent Vader into a rage, and cemented his disposition for decades to come as a brooding, enraged agent of the Emperor’s. In light of the Emperor’s history of lying to Darth Vader, it seems likely that a challenger of Darth Vader’s estate plan naming the Emperor as beneficiary would claim that the estate plan was a result of fraud.
Moreover, a challenger could attempt to allege that the estate plan was a product of undue influence. Certainly, as Vader’s master, the Emperor had an inordinate degree of power over him. Combine that with the Emperor’s skills in using the dark side of the force to manipulate people, and there appears to be a strong argument that any estate plan naming the Emperor as beneficiary would not have been a product of Darth Vader’s free will. At the end of the day, the discussion is a bit academic because the Emperor predeceased Darth Vader, and therefore would not have been able to take under his estate plan.
Option #6: Padme’s Family
What would happen if Luke and Leia were barred by the slayer statue from inheriting Darth Vader’s estate, and a bequest to any of the other people we discussed above failed for the reasons we discussed? Darth Vader’s wife and mother both predeceased him, and he left no other maternal or paternal kindred that I know of in the canonical Star Wars universe.
Virginia Code 64.2-200 provides that where a decedent leaves no surviving paternal kindred or maternal kindred, then his whole estate passes “to the kindred of the decedent’s most recent spouse, if any, provided that the decedent and the spouse were married at the time of the spouse’s death.” Vader’s most recent spouse was Padme, and they were certainly married at the time of her death. Accordingly, if Luke and Leia were both barred from inheriting Vader’s estate, then his estate would pass to Padme’s family.
This would be a fitting result on several levels: while we can only speculate (as we didn’t see any mention of Padme’s family after Episode 3), based upon what we know about the family, it would have almost certainly despised the Empire. With Vader’s redemption right before his death, he likely would have wanted his wealth to end up in the hands of someone not affiliated with the Empire. Also, the entire Clone Wars, the fall of the Republic, and the Galactic Empire, were all a result of the invasion of Naboo that was engineered by Darth Sidious at the beginning of Episode 1. Therefore, it would be especially fitting that upon Vader’s passing at the end of Episode 6, his wealth would go full circle, and pass to the Naboo-based family of Padme.
I hope you’re not merely amused by this somewhat tongue-in-cheek discussion, but rather that you’ve learned how important proactive estate planning truly is, and how easily disputes can arise even with the best and most comprehensive planning in place. Star Wars is fiction, but the family and inheritance problems in the Star Wars universe happen in real life all too often.
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