Spoiler Alert: This post contains spoilers about the recent Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi.
At the climax of The Last Jedi, Luke Skywalker appears via Force Projection on the planet Crait to confront his nephew Kylo Ren and save the last of the Rebels. Exhausted from appearing via Force Projection to ensure the escape of the Rebels, Luke Skywalker peacefully passes on and became one with the Force. His Jedi robes gently collapse into a pile as we gaze to the broad and optimistic horizon ahead.
As we ponder profound issues such as Rey’s parentage, Leia’s apparent Force ability, the possibility of Benicio Del Toro’s return in the next movie (hopefully, yes), and the fate of the Republic, we must also consider the disposition of Luke’s estate. While we do not know whether Luke had a will in place, 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, Luke’s death would likely have set off a wave of litigation among numerous characters in the Galaxy.
My colleague Will Sleeth previously wrote two entertaining and insightful posts about the potential dispositions of Han Solo’s and Darth Vader’s estates. We now turn our attention to the outcome of Luke’s estate.
Luke came from humble beginnings on Tatooine, having been raised by Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. He went on to become a Jedi Master and hero of the Republic after helping his father, Darth Vader, overthrow the evil Emperor Palpatine at the end of The Return of the Jedi.
First, let’s consider what assets Luke would have had upon his passing. While not much is known about the interim period after The Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, one can safely assume that Luke remained a fairly prominent figure in the Galaxy, at least for a time. Perhaps he inked a book deal or two, appeared in television shows or movies about his life, joined the motivational speech circuit, or maybe even landed some lucrative endorsement contracts for droid companies or clothing lines.
We will assume for purposes of this post that he was a man of means and accumulated substantial wealth. He likely had investment accounts, real estate holdings, vehicles, and personal property. Moreover, he likely preserved this wealth as he lived very cheaply (by doing his own fishing and avoiding the barbershop, as seen in The Last Jedi), in self-imposed exile on Ahch-To.
Scenario #1: Luke Died Testate (with a Will) and Unmarried
We know that Luke was in self-imposed exile at the time of his death. Both of his parents were dead. From all indications, prior to The Last Jedi he had not spoken with his sister Leia in a long time. He also was estranged from his nephew Ben Solo (who later became the evil Kylo Ren). Given Luke’s surprising bitterness about the Force and the Jedi Order, Luke also would not likely have left his estate to the Jedi Order or any related charity. I believe Luke would have left his estate to his sister Leia as the sole beneficiary. Assuming Luke was unmarried at the time of his death, Leia would take Luke’s entire estate as the beneficiary under his will.
Scenario #2: Luke Died Testate (with a Will) and Married
If Luke was survived by a spouse, his spouse could make a claim for the elective share if Luke wrote his spouse out of his will (or left his spouse a nominal share). The elective share protects spouses from being completely written out of their spouse’s will. The elective share is a statutory calculation that is based, in part, on the value of the augmented estate and length of the marriage. However, the surviving 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, in an elective share dispute, the big question would be whether Luke’s spouse willfully deserted or abandoned Luke, and whether that continued until the time of his death. However, from all indications, Luke was not married at the time of his death, so this would seem an unlikely scenario.
Scenario #3: Luke Died Intestate and Survived by a Spouse and Possibly Children
Assuming Luke died married and without a will, the intestacy scheme would apply. The intestacy scheme is a statutory framework that provides the beneficiaries in the event one dies without a will.
The basic rules in Virginia are as follows:
- 100% of the estate to the surviving spouse if the decedent leaves only a surviving spouse and/or children or descendants of the surviving spouse.
- If the decedent leaves a surviving spouse and a child or children or their descendants, one or more of whom are not children or their descendants of the surviving spouse, then the estate goes 2/3 to the surviving children/descendants and 1/3 to the surviving spouse.
- If there is no surviving spouse, then 100% of the estate goes to the decedent’s children and their descendants.
- If there are no surviving children/descendants or a spouse, then 100% of the estate goes to the parents of the decedent.
- If there are no surviving parents, then 100% of the estate goes to the decedent’s brothers and sister and their descendants.
If Luke left a surviving spouse and no children, then his surviving spouse would inherit 100% of his estate.
If Luke left a surviving spouse and children with the surviving spouse, then his surviving spouse would still inherit 100% of his estate.
If Luke left a surviving spouse and a child or children from another person, then his children would inherit 2/3 of his estate and his surviving spouse 1/3.
Scenario #4: Luke Died Intestate with No Spouse or Living Children
Assuming Luke did not have a will, had no spouse, and had no children, Luke’s estate would pass to descendants of his parents – namely, his sister, Princess Leia.
From all indications, Luke did not leave any spouse or surviving children. His parents, Darth Vader and Padme Amidala, were both deceased. His sister Leia, however, still lives. As a result, under the intestacy scheme, 100% of his estate would go to his sister Leia. Further confusing (but likely inconsequentially so) the matter is Leia’s near death experience in The Last Jedi. As you may recall, her ship was attacked and she was blown out into space. She eventually used the Force to float back to the ship. Fortunately for the Galaxy, she was able to recover from her injuries.
While Star Wars is of course a fictional galaxy, the issues presented in this post frequently come up in real world estate disputes.