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Jackie Cooper’s Poison Pill Clause

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Image by Ken Mayer on Flickr

Image by Ken Mayer on Flickr

Former “Superman” actor and big screen legend Jackie Cooper didn’t want anyone in his family waging a battle over his last will and testament, so he put in what’s often called a “poison pill” clause.

What’s a poison pill clause? The proper legal term is a “no contest clause,” and its purpose is to discourage people from challenging a will’s provisions. Generally, it provides that anyone who contests the will would receive a paltry sum, often one dollar. The potential penalty is considered the “poison” that would kill the beneficiary’s chances of receiving a larger inheritance.

Cooper was a bit more generous than only offering a dollar, however, and provided that he would give “to such persons so contesting or objecting the sum of FIVE DOLLARS ($5.00) and no more,” according to, which obtained a copy of the will. also reports that Cooper’s will, filed in the Los Angeles County Superior Court, essentially left everything to his wife, but since she has already passed away, the estate will pass in equal parts to his surviving children.

There has been no report that any of the children have plans to contest their inheritances, but such action could raise some interesting legal questions. The state of California has been discussing the legitimacy of no contest clauses for quite some time, and with a law that came into effect in January of 2010, laid down some strict rules as to when such clauses would be enforceable. Before that, most poison pill clauses would have been enforceable.

Whether we’ll eventually be discussing Cooper’s will’s poison pill clause in greater detail remains to be seen, but do note that if you’re in California and have a will with a no contest clause made before January 2010, you should probably have an attorney look it over to make sure it’s still valid.

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May 17th, 2011 at 9:18 am