On Tuesday, October 15, 2019, a judge decided who is the legal guardian of the late rapper Nipsey Hussle’s daughter, Emani. In the aftermath of Hussle’s murder this March, his family and ex-girlfriend have been locked in a bitter battle for custody of one of his young children. And as this ugly drama plays out in the courtroom and tabloids, it highlights the single-most costly estate planning mistake a parent can make.
Hussle’s death is particularly tragic, as his debut album, Victory Lap, was recently nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Rap Album. He was gunned down outside his South Los Angeles clothing store in March. His alleged killer, Eric Holder, arrested and indicted for murder a few days later, is currently behind bars awaiting trial.
Yet even more tragic is what happened to Hussle’s kids. Because Hussle, 34, whose given name was Ermias Ashgedom, never named legal guardians, a judge decided who is the legal guardian of each of his two children—daughter Emani, 10, and son Kross, 2.
Hussle did not have a Will
In addition to not naming guardians for his kids, Hussle also failed to create a will, which makes their guardianship even more contentious. Hussle’s estate is estimated to be worth $2 million, and under California law, in the absence of a will, that money is to be split equally between his two kids.
Given that both children are minors, however, they’re ineligible to access their inheritance until they reach the age of majority. Generally, the court appoints the same guardian to care for the child and manage the child’s “estate”, or inheritance.
The fact that Hussle didn’t create a will is obviously another terrible mistake. But when it comes to your children’s lives, all the money in the world is meaningless in comparison. For this reason, we’re going to focus on the consequences resulting from Hussle’s failure to name legal guardians, and how easily the whole ugly mess could have been avoided.
Guardianship of Hussle’s son Kross, was not a source of conflict. Kross’s mother is actress Lauren London, who was Hussle’s longtime girlfriend, and Kross had been living with London at the time of his father’s death. Lauren, however, did need to petition the court for approval to be the guardian of Kross’s “estate” and manage Kross’s inheritance.
Emani in Limbo
Since the day of the shooting, Hussle’s sister, Samantha Smith, has been caring for Emani, who was living with her father when he was killed. Following Hussle’s shooting, Smith petitioned the court to obtain Emani’s guardianship.
But Emani’s mother, Tanisha Foster, an old girlfriend of Hussle’s, also petitioned the court for guardianship. This led to a custody battle only resolved more than six months later.
Though Foster and Hussle shared custody of Emani, at the time of the rapper’s death, Hussle’s ex had reportedly not seen the child in months. Yet Foster claimed that Emani was just visiting her dad on the day he was killed and that Smith and the rest of Hussle’s family are refusing to return her.
Smith and Hussle’s family contended that Foster is unfit to raise the child due to her criminal past. Foster has a criminal record dating back to 2006, and she currently has a warrant out for her arrest after skipping a court hearing for a DUI charge.
Yet Foster claimed that her criminal history is irrelevant, and that as Emani’s mother, she’s the one who should be named as guardian. She’s also claiming that Smith unlawfully took custody of her daughter on the day of Hussle’s shooting.
In May the court ruled that Hussle’s sister had temporary custody of Emani, pending a final decision on her guardianship. On October 15, 2019, the court decided that Hussle’s family had provided sufficient evidence for their petition and appointed Hussle’s siblings, Samantha Smith and Sam Asghedom, and his mother, Angelique Smith, as legal guardians of Emani.
Don’t leave your child’s life in a judge’s hands
As Hussle’s case so dramatically demonstrates, your death can strike at any time, so if you’re the parent of minor children, it’s imperative that you select and legally document long-term guardians for your kids. In fact, naming guardians for your children should be your number-one planning priority.
As we’re seeing with Hussle, leaving it up to the court to name guardians for your kids can lead to conflict, as otherwise well-meaning family members fight one another over custody. This process can be terribly traumatizing for everyone involved, especially your kids.
Hussle’s case also shows how slow this process often is. The court held numerous hearings related to Emani’s custody and it took more than six months for the court to determine guardianship. Here, the warrant out for Foster’s arrest probably helped to tip the scales. In other cases, the parties’ arguments and allegations about why they are the best choice (or the other(s) are unfit choices) are much messier. Indeed, these custody battles often drag on for years, making the lawyers wealthy, while your kids are stuck in the middle.
But the most tragic consequence of Hussle’s failure to name legal guardians is that a judge decided who’s best suited to care for his kids. Though we can’t be sure exactly who Hussle would have wanted to raise Emani, it’s almost certain he wouldn’t have wanted a total stranger to make that decision for him. Yet, because he didn’t take the time to document legal guardians, that’s exactly what happened.
Kids Protection Plan®
As your Personal Family Lawyer®, helping you select and legally document long-term guardians for your children is one of our focus areas. The founder of the Personal Family Lawyer® program, Alexis Katz, wrote a best-selling book on the subject titled Wear Clean Underwear!: A Fast, Fun, Friendly and Essential Guide to Legal Planning for Busy Parents.
As a mother and one of the country’s leading estate-planning experts for families, Alexis was shocked to discover that the plan she created for her own daughter under the traditional planning model would have left her child at risk of being taken into the care of strangers, if anything happened to her and her husband. To address this gap in her plan, Alexis created a unique system known as the Kids Protection Plan®.
The system is a comprehensive methodology to guide you step-by step through the process of legally documenting guardians for your kids, for the short-term, long-term, and so much more. As a Personal Family Lawyer® firm, we’ve been trained to support you to put in place the Kids Protection Plan® for your minor children and/or children with special needs.
Get started immediately
Because naming legal guardians for your kids is so critical, you can’t afford to wait to get the process started. That’s why we have an easy-to-use (and absolutely free) Kids Protection Plan® website you can visit right now to create legal documents naming the long-term guardians you’d want to care for your children if you could not.
If you have minor children—or children with long-term special needs—living at home, you should immediately use this resource, or contact us directly, to get started. And then schedule a follow-up visit with us to put a full Kids Protection Plan® in place. The numerous resources offered in the full plan go far beyond just naming long-term legal guardians.
The Kids Protection Plan® also lets you grant the people you choose (along with backups) the legal authority to temporarily care for your children, until the long-term guardians can be located and formally named by the court. And you’re also able to confidentially, but in writing, exclude any person you know you’d never want to raise your kids.
Indeed, the full Kids Protection Plan® offers a broad array of protective measures and materials designed to provide for the well-being, care, and love of your kids no matter what happens. Meet with us as your Personal Family Lawyer® today to ensure that your children and family never fall victim to the same tragic circumstances as Hussle’s.
This article is a service of Rebecca Begelman Strub, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by contacting us today or use our online scheduler for a Family Wealth Planning Session to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.