Who would be the beneficiary of the estate of Han Solo? Star Wars is obviously a fictional universe, and there is no indication in Episode 7 (or any other canon material that I’m aware of) that speaks to whether Han Solo had a will or not. Nevertheless, it’s both fun and educational to analyze the answer, because if the same laws in effect in Virginia were in effect in the Star Wars universe, Han Solo’s death would likely have set off a wave of litigation among numerous characters in a galaxy far, far away.
First, let’s consider what assets Han Solo would have had upon his passing. We know that Solo had likely accumulated significant wealth over his long career as one of the galaxy’s most successful smugglers. We also know that he received a sizeable monetary reward from the Rebellion for his successful rescue of Princess Leia from the Death Star in Episode 4. In sum, there’s good reason to believe that his assets were substantial.
Second, let’s consider to whom Han Solo would have left his assets if he had executed a somewhat standard estate plan composed of a pour-over will and a revocable living trust (let’s also assume, for purposes of simplicity, that the Star Wars universe does not have a gift and estate tax). We know that at the time of Episode 7, Solo was married to Princess Leia and they had at least one child – Ben Solo – who was turned to the dark side of the force by Supreme Leader Snoke. Ben Solo then took the name Kylo Ren. We also know that Ben’s turn to the dark side deeply affected both Leia and Han and significantly strained their marriage (while Episode 7 does not make it entirely clear that Han and Leia were married, I cracked open my sons’ book The Force Awakens: The Visual Dictionary, and it confirms that they married shortly after the events of Episode 6 and were still married at the time his death). The events of Episode 7 make clear that Han and Leia were barely on speaking terms, had not seen each other in quite a while, and did not maintain a normal marital relationship by any means (with Leia busy serving as a general in the Resistance, and Han busy going on smuggling adventures with Chewbacca).
We also know that Solo was still old pals with his loyal side-kick Chewbacca. Star Wars fans may recall that Chewbacca owed Solo a “life debt” whereby Chewbacca committed to working with and protecting Solo as a result of Solo rescuing Chewbacca from slavery decades earlier.
We also know that Han’s son, Ben Solo (a/k/a Kylo Ren), was the one who killed him. In Episode 7, during the Resistance’s infiltration of Starkiller Base (the First Order’s new base of operations), Han came across his son and, in an attempt to turn him back to the light side, approached him unarmed. After much internal turmoil, Kylo Ren activated his lightsaber and pierced Han Solo through his torso, killing him in cold blood.
Now, in light of all of this, what would likely unfold upon Han’s death? The question would depend, in part, on whether Han had executed a will and trust, or if he did not have an estate plan in place, in which case he would be deemed to have died intestate (i.e., without a will), whereby a statutory order of beneficiaries would control the distribution scheme.
Scenario #1: Han Solo Died Testate
First, I believe that it is fair to assume that if Han had died testate (with an estate plan), he would likely have named Chewbacca as the beneficiary of his will and trust. In Episode 7, Han was angry with Leia and distraught about Ben, making it unlikely that he would want to provide for either in his estate plan.
However, under Virginia law, a spouse cannot completely disinherit his spouse, and in the event of such, the disinherited spouse has the right to file a claim for the elective share of the deceased spouse’s augmented estate (which is 1/3 of the augmented estate if the deceased left surviving children or their descendants [which Han did]). Accordingly, it seems likely that if Han named Chewbacca as the sole beneficiary of his trust, Leia would file a claim for the elective share.
Here’s where things get interesting (and would turn contentious between Leia and Chewbacca): under Virginia law, a spouse is barred from taking by way of the elective share if the spouse willfully deserted or abandoned the other spouse, and such desertion or abandonment continued until the time of the death of the other spouse. Therefore, the big question would be whether Leia willfully deserted or abandoned Han, and whether that continued until the time of his death. This would likely be a hotly litigated issue, as there are very good arguments on both sides.
Leia would argue that she simply saw her husband less than a typical couple (a practice which is not unusual among celebrity or high-powered couples, especially when one of them holds a leadership role in a military organization, as Leia did). Leia would also argue that she had an active, functioning relationship with Han, as evidenced by their detailed discussion in Episode 7 about their remorse at their son’s turning to the dark side, and Leia’s plea to Han to try to “bring him back.”
Chewbacca would argue in opposition to Leia’s claim, as if Chewbacca could convince the judge or jury that Leia had deserted or abandoned Han, then he would defeat Leia’s claim to the elective share and would receive all of Han’s estate for himself. In support of his argument that Leia abandoned Han, Chewbacca would try to argue that Leia’s prioritizing of her duties as a general for the Resistance led her to neglect her marriage to Han to the point that she willfully deserted or abandoned him (forcing Han to return to a life of smuggling apart from her). That, coupled with the marital tension resulting from their remorse at Ben Solo’s decision to join Supreme Leader Snoke, led to a marital breakdown, such that by the time of the events of Episode 7, when Leia and Han happened to run into each other, they could not even communicate without bickering.
How would a jury rule on this issue? I’m not sure. There are good arguments on both sides. Readers should feel welcome to e-mail me their thoughts, and I’ll likely post the results in a future blog post.
Scenario #2: Han Solo Died Intestate
If Han Solo died without having executed a will and/or trust, then a statutory order of beneficiaries would control the distribution of his estate. Under Virginia law, the sole beneficiary is the surviving spouse, unless the deceased is “survived by children or their descendants, one or more of whom are not children or their descendants of the surviving spouse, in which case, two-thirds of the estate descends and passes to the decedent’s children and their descendants, and one-third of the estate descends and passes to the surviving spouse.” In the Star Wars universe, we have no indication that Han ever had any children by a woman other than Leia, so under the intestacy scheme, Leia would inherit all of his assets. But, the bar on inheritance that we discussed above (with respect to the elective share) also applies to bar a spouse who deserted or abandoned from taking via intestate succession too. Accordingly, Leia would face the same potential legal problems if Han died intestate, as she would if he died testate.
Here’s where things get especially interesting: if Leia was in fact barred from inheriting via intestate succession, then Han’s estate would pass to his children. As far as I’m aware, the Star Wars canonical universe has only indicated to us that Han has one child: Ben Solo (though it has hinted at the possibility that Rey may be his daughter too). So, if Leia was barred from inheriting via intestate succession, then Ben Solo (a/k/a Kylo Ren) would inherit his father’s estate, right? Well, not exactly.
Under Virginia law (as with the law in many other 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”). Therefore, the administrator of Han’s estate would likely seek to invoke the slayer rule to prevent Kylo Ren from inheriting any of Han’s asserts via intestate succession. The administrator would argue that Ren’s act of killing Han in cold blood, without provocation, certainly constitutes murder (or, at a minimum, voluntary manslaughter).
Ren, on the other hand, would argue that his act did not constitute murder or voluntary manslaughter, but rather was the proper killing of an enemy soldier during combat. Ren would point to the active conflict between the First Order and the Resistance, the fact that Solo had infiltrated the First Order’s base on behalf of the Resistance, and the fact that Solo was accompanied by other armed combatants when he confronted Ren.
So how would a jury rule on this issue? Again, there are good arguments on both sides. As with the issue of whether Leia abandoned or deserted Han, please feel free to e-mail me your thoughts on whether Kylo Ren committed murder or voluntary manslaughter, or the proper killing of an enemy solider during combat.
Let’s suppose that the administrator of Han’s estate was successful in convincing a judge or jury that Kylo Ren’s act was in fact murder or voluntary manslaughter (thereby barring Ren from taking via intestate succession). With Leia and Ren now both barred, the next question is who is the proper person to take via intestate succession? We may need to wait until the release of Episode 8 to answer that question, as if it turns out that Rey is Han’s daughter, she would be the one. If Rey is not Han’s daughter, then the order of inheritance proceeds as follows: Han’s parents (although it seems unlikely they would still be alive), then Han’s brothers and sisters and their descendents. Does Han have any brothers or sisters? I don’t know. In the old Expanded Universe, numerous books were written about Han, and they may have contained some mention of brothers or sisters. With the new cannon, however, we are not aware of any brothers or sisters. However, Disney is currently in the casting stage for actors for a movie about young Han Solo. Perhaps that movie will shed some light on Han’s brothers and sisters (one or more of whom would be the lucky beneficiary of Han’s ample estate, to the detriment of Leia and Kylo Ren).
George Lucas recently stated about Star Wars that “it’s actually a soap opera and it’s all about family problems.” Indeed, following Han Solo’s death, his estate would likely have become the subject of a huge lawsuit among his wife, his son, his best friend, and possibly his brothers and sisters. Will Episode 8 portray the courtroom drama as Leia, Chewbacca, Kylo Ren, Han’s unknown siblings, and the administrator of Han’s estate all litigate against each other for the right to his ample wealth? Of course it won’t. But Han’s death does raise many interesting issues that are frequently litigated in a galaxy much closer to home.