What Would Happen to the Star Wars Smuggler’s Possessions
If He Had Passed Away in New Mexico?
The scene is familiar one to Star Wars fans around the world: near the end of Star Wars: Episode VII, The Force Awakens, Han Solo is killed by his son, Ben Solo, aka Kylo Ren on Starkiller Base. One question not at the forefront of most fans’ minds at this moment, is “who inherits Hon Solo’s stuff?”. Han’s unfortunate demise presents an opportunity to walk through New Mexico probate and community property law.
If Han Solo died in New Mexico, instead of on Starkiller Base, what would happen to his things? For this exercise, we will answer two primary questions: who gets Han’s possessions, including the Millennium Falcon, and who is on the hook for any gambling or smuggling debts? We will assume that Han Solo did not take the time to visit his local attorney to prepare a Will or other estate planning documents, and so died intestate.
Han Solo’s Possessions
The Star Wars movies do not make it clear what Han Solo owned; apart from the things on his person (i.e. his gun, his vest, etc.) and his beloved Millennium Falcon. The first person that would take any portion of Han Solo’s estate would be his wife, Princess Lea. Fans know that Lea and Han were not legally divorced, but that Han just “left” as he says in Episode VII. Without an official divorce decree, Princess Lea would be entitled to her “spousal share” under NMSA 1978, Section 45-2-102 (1975). This spousal share would probably be all of Han Solo’s share of community property (community property and separate property are defined in NMSA 1978, Section 40-3-8 (1990)), as well as a certain portion of Han’s separate property.
The Millennium Falcon was Hans before the marriage, and so it is likely that vehicle is separate property under New Mexico law. What portion Lea would receive of the separate property depends on if Han had surviving children: Lea gets 1/4th of Hans separate property if there are living children, and the entire estate if there are no living children. Given the revelation in The Force Awakens that Kylo Ren is, in fact, Han Solo’s son, it would initially appear that Lea would be entitled to 1/4th, while Kylo Ren would receive the remaining 3/4th of Han’s separate property. However, NMSA 1978, Section 45-2-803 states that anyone who “[illegally] kills the decedent forfeits all benefits… including an intestate share” and the killer’s share passes “as if the killer disclaimed the killer’s intestate share.” This would undoubtedly be the situation here, as Kylo Ren murdered Han Solo at the end of Episode VII. As a result, Han’s separate property would likely pass as if he had no surviving issue, and so Princess Lea would receive his entire estate.
What Could Han Have Done Differently?
If the result above is not what Han would have wanted, if for instance, he instead wanted the Millennium Falcon to pass to Chewbacca, there are a couple things that he should have done differently. First, if Han intended to break his marriage with Princess Lea, he could have gotten a judicial divorce decree, he and Lea would have separated their community property, dealt with alimony, child support, and the like, and then likely she would have had no claim to any community property in Han’s estate. Han then could have written a Will recording his wishes for the distribution of his property. Additionally, if he had any real estate, he could have executed and recorded a Transfer on Death Deed for that property so that it would pass to Chewbacca, or anyone else he chose, immediately upon his death.
Han Solo’s Gambling and Smuggling Debts
Wherever Han Solo seems to go in the Star Wars universe, debt of some sort or another seems to follow him. As a result, one may wonder if those debts would have survived Han’s death, or if any of the inter-space could (legally) seek settlement of Han’s debts from Princess Lea. Debts that are owed by someone at their death are, in most cases, still owed by that person’s estate, and creditors can seek payment of the debt from the estate during the administration or probate process. If the debts are greater than the value of the estate, in most cases, creditors do not have any recourse; in this scenario, any debts that Han Solo owed that were greater than the value of his estate, would likely not be enforceable.
Community debts are usually viewed to be owed by both spouses, if they are incurred during the marriage, even if only one spouse signs or incurs the debt. However, Princess Lea probably does not have any reason to fear, as debts associated with gambling are always viewed as separate debts (see Section 40-3-9.1), as are any debts found by a court to be “unreasonable” under Section 40-3-10.1. These debts incurred while spouses are living apart if the debt did not contribute to the benefit of both spouses or their children.
The intestate process can be an expensive, painful, and complicated process for those left behind, and can be avoided by executing estate planning documents that clearly state what you would like to happen to your possessions when you die.