Celebrity Estate Planning
Celebrities are just like the rest of us. Some never plan while others forget to make important updates with life changes. Here are snapshots of famous estate planning cases:
Died Without A Will or Trust
Howard Hughes - Famous for his aviation and film industry achievements, his estate worth more than $2 Billion took nearly a decade to settle. Florence Griffith Joyner -The Olympic runner's decedents could not find an original copy of the will, meaning the estate went through a probate, which lasted several years. Jimi Hendrix - After the musician passed, his family fought for control of his estate and rights to his music, which grew significantly after his death. His father won control of the estate while Jimi's brother, Leon, received nothing. Steig Larrson - The author of the "Girl with the Dragoon Tattoo" left nothing to his girlfriend of 30 years. Instead, his estate was split among his father and brother. Steve McNair - The NFL quarterback's widow learned of his mistress during probate. His widow could not get frozen assets for her children during probate until estate taxes were paid. McNair had several children outside the marriage. John Denver - The country singer had three children and two ex-wives contesting his estate. Abraham Lincoln - US President Barry White - The singer never divorced his wife and for years had been seeing someone else. The two women battled it out in probate. Martin Luther King, Jr - His heirs battled for decades for the right to control the use of his image. Pamela Courson - The girlfriend, or common-in-law wife, of singer Jim Morrison inherited Jim's estate. However, she passed shortly after Jim from drugs and she left no will, leaving Morrison's entire estate to her parents, who likely disliked Morrison. Morrison's parents contested the estate after her passing leading to an agreement in which the Coursons and Morrisons split earnings and royalties from his estate. John F. Kennedy Jr. - Politician
Estates Become Public Via Probate Because a Trust Was Not Used
Elvis Presley - Over 70% of his $10 Million estate was lost during the probate process due to probate and probate-related costs. Warren Burger - The Supreme Court Justice wrote a short 176 word will, leaving out crucial basic clauses which could have saved his heirs $450,000 in estate taxes. Michael Jackson - Had a living trust but did not properly transfer assets, meaning much of his estate went thru the public process of probate. Michael also picked his mother as guardian for his children with Diana Ross as the backup. If his mother passed first, the kids would have needed to move across the country to live with Diana Ross, where they would have known few people. Michael named executors who were not family members to reduce any conflict of interest - this was one of Michael's smartest estate planning moves. Walter Cronkite - The famous news anchor left nothing for his longtime girlfriend, leading to the New York Times headline "WALTER JILT$ GAL PAL!". James Gandolfini - The actor failed to do proper estate tax planning on 80% of his estate and did not place any of his $70 Million estate in a trust, leaving ex-wives and children to fight over his estate. His will creates a testamentary trust to hold real estate for his kids until they are age 25, but a testamentary trust does not help an estate avoid probate. Sherman Hemsley - The Jeffersons actor's estate, left to his "beloved partner", is being contested by his long lost brother. The dispute of the will also prevented the immediate burial of his body so DNA tests can be completed.
Forgot to Update Their Plans
Heath Ledger - The actor passed with a will in Australia, but not in the United States where his child was born. James Brown - The singer's will was created before his final marriage, leaving his widow nothing. She contested the will in probate, which took many years to settle. Ted Williams - The Boston Red Sox great's original will stated he wanted to be cremated, but a note found by children from his second marriage says he wanted to be frozen in biostasis. Gary Coleman - Actor Dennis Hopper - Actor Davey Jones - The daughter of the Monkees' lead singer had to petition a probate court to seal the probate file to protect the estate via this motion: "The decedent has been a public figure since the 1960s, and [the estate] is concerned about the public's access to the ... planning documents and financial affairs as public opinion could have a material effect on his copyrights, royalties and ongoing goodwill." With a living trust, the motion would not have been needed and the matters would have been private. The private matters revolved a will drafted several years before Jones married his third wife.
Picked the Wrong People to Manage Their Estate
Doris Duke - The tobacco heiress left a $1.3 Billion dollar estate to a charitable foundation which named her butler as executor and trustee. He mismanagement and questionable spending required a probate judge to remove him in favor of a board. Princess Diana - In her will, she asked her sister and mother, who were executors, to use their discretion to divide her belongings among her sons and 17 godchildren. Each would have received roughly 100,000 pounds, but instead each godchild received only a trinket. Brooke Astor - The socialite appointed her son as her financial power of attorney agent, who was later convicted of fraud and grand larceny in handling her estate.
Famous People Who Planned Well
Steve Jobs - The co-founder of Apple had a $6 Billion dollar estate that is not made public via a will and will not go through probate. His estate may also avoid estate taxes! Whitney Houston - The singer who signed a $100 million contract had smart attorneys who had her estate plan and prenuptial agreements in place. Farrah Fawcett - The actress made changes to her living trust several times to adjust for changes in her life and also specifically left her longtime lover and son's father, Ryan O'Neal, out as a beneficiary. Brittany Murphy - The actress created the "Nina Bow Trust" to hold her assets and keep her estate plan private. Brittany's death was due to mold in a new home she had purchased.