Matthew Perry’s Legacy: The Fate of His Friends Residuals and Estate
The world was stunned by the untimely death of beloved actor Matthew Perry on October 28, 2023, who had been best known for his iconic role as Chandler Bing on the hit TV show “Friends.” The 54-year-old star, who had been a cornerstone of the beloved sitcom for almost a decade, was reportedly earning a staggering $20 million per year in residuals from the show’s syndication and streaming revenue. As the news of his passing sent shockwaves through Hollywood and beyond, many were left wondering what would become of his substantial income and estate, given that he had no spouse or children to inherit his wealth.
Perry’s cause of death has not been confirmed, and details surrounding his passing remain shrouded in mystery. In such circumstances, the fate of his substantial financial assets becomes a matter of significant interest and speculation.
Typically, the residual payments for actors are considered their personal property. Under California law, there are several possibilities for how Perry’s residuals could be distributed. According to financial planning expert Charlie Douglas, members of the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) can designate beneficiaries for residual payments in case of their demise. Similar to designating a beneficiary for accounts like a 401(k), Perry may have named an individual or a trust to receive these residuals. Trusts are private entities, unlike wills, which are public records, making it difficult to discern who the beneficiaries might be.
However, there is a third option, and it’s quite possible that Perry might not have made any specific provisions for his residuals. In such cases, state law would determine the distribution of his estate, and, in Perry’s case, it’s likely that his parents will inherit his assets. Perry’s parents, who had divorced when he was a baby, both remarried and had more children. They stand next in line according to California’s intestacy laws, which dictate the hierarchy of inheritance in the absence of a spouse or children.
Tasha Dickinson, a trusts and estates partner at Day Pitney, explained that Perry’s parents would likely inherit his acting royalties, as well as other parts of his estate, which might include his recently published 2022 memoir. However, they have the option to make a “qualified disclaimer” and relinquish their rights, which would allow the residuals to pass down to Perry’s half-siblings, should they choose to do so.
Probate court, which would be the alternative if no specific beneficiaries are named, is an undesirable process in California, as it is expensive, time-consuming, and results in all court matters becoming public record. This can lead to confusion, unwanted media attention, and potential family disputes, as tax expert David Oh pointed out. Celebrities who do not have a proper estate plan in place often face these complications, emphasizing the importance of estate planning.
Perry, who had been vocal about his struggles with addiction, had also been involved in philanthropic efforts. He opened a sober living facility at his Malibu mansion and was working on establishing the Matthew Perry Foundation, sponsored and maintained by the National Philanthropic Trust. This foundation was officially established on November 3, 2023.
In a poignant statement made during an interview last year, Perry expressed his hope that he would be remembered not just for his role in “Friends” but for the positive impact he had on others. His close relationships and philanthropic interests suggest that some of his wealth may be directed toward charitable causes, as noted by David Oh.
Perry’s passing has deeply affected not only his fans but also his “Friends” co-stars. Jennifer Aniston, Lisa Kudrow, Courteney Cox, and David Schwimmer were seen consoling each other outside the church where Perry was laid to rest. Matt LeBlanc also joined them, reflecting the deep bond they shared, and issued a joint statement expressing their devastation over his loss.
While the world mourns the loss of a talented actor, the question of what will become of his substantial residuals and estate remains unanswered, sparking a continuing discussion about the importance of estate planning and the legacy that Matthew Perry leaves behind.