When he was alive, Chris Kyle told friends and business associates that he viewed any profits from his memoir American Sniper as “blood money.” The legendary Navy SEAL, whose account of his four tours of duty in Iraq was adapted into the Clint Eastwood movie that is now up for six Oscars including best picture, maintained that he wanted the money to go to support struggling military families. After Kyle and a friend were shot and killed in 2013 by a veteran Kyle was helping, The New York Times retold this widely known point of view: “Though his book became a best-seller, he never collected money from it, friends said, donating the proceeds to the families of two friends and fallen SEAL members, Ryan Job and Marc Lee.”
At the center of the discord is Kyle’s widow, Taya, 40, who is alleged to have ignored her late husband’s wishes and withheld money from the bereaved families he publicly had promised to support.
Neither Lee’s family nor Kelly Job, the widow of Ryan Job, have filed lawsuits, and none is expected. Legal experts say that because Kyle’s promise was verbal and he died without a will, prevailing in a court case would be unlikely.
In August, Taya sued Christopher Kirkpatrick, a Dallas lawyer who had represented both her and her husband in connection with several business deals, including a company called Craft International that Chris Kyle had co-founded.
In that suit, Taya claimed that Kirkpatrick was inappropriately making statements that Taya had not honored her late husband’s oral promises and was withholding money from the Jobs and Lees. Taya responded strongly in a court filing that she owed no such obligation and was in possession of an undisclosed document that made clear her husband’s plan: “Chris Kyle specifically detailed his wishes as to the proceeds of American Sniper in the event of his death,” the language of the court filing reads. “And such wishes are IN FACT being carried out as set forth by Mr. Kyle.” She maintained that another adviser had drafted a written document that spelled out “his wishes as to the distribution of profits after his death,” which suggests it did not include the Lee or Job families. Taya has not shared that document in the case, which is ongoing.
Having recently finished the book American Sniper, I found this article interesting because it became extremely evident to me in the autobiography how passionate Chris Kyle really was about his friends and fellow SEALs, and helping war veterans once they returned home. Now that Chris is gone, much debate remains as to what his wishes were for how the over $6 million in book sales and the $400 million worldwide from the Warner Bros. film should be distributed. Obviously there are those who feel that Chris’s wife Taya has cheated the Lee and Job families from what was promised them, while Taya asserts that she is carrying out her late husband’s wishes.
There are several questions that I asked myself when reading this article. What type of ethical obligation does Kyle’s widow have to his verbal promises? What type of obligation does she have as an American to those who have served to protect our lives? Is she decreasing the quality of life that these veterans’ families might enjoy for her own benefit? If so, what makes her more deserving of the profits? Furthermore, what types of ethical obligations are any of us under to carry out the undocumented wishes when a loved one passes? Should we carry out the “letter of the law”, as Taya seems to be asserting, or the “spirit of the law”, which would imply donating the profits?
I realized that perhaps Taya’s situation may be more complicated than the media reports. We don’t know what Chris’s final written instructions were. I think that each case should be individually evaluated. However at the end of the day, your decision is going to come down to your presuppositions and values for life after death.