Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Celebrity Estate Planning Mistakes

WillsAs I have previously discussed, celebrities tend to make as many estate planning mistakes as non-celebrities. Here are some more celebrity estate planning mistakes:

  • Sonny Bono: He failed to write a will before he died unexpectedly. He also fathered an child out of wedlock, who sought part of his father's estate. His ex-wife managed to also stake a claim to part of Bono's estate. If there is lesson here to learn, a person might want to consider writing a will because a person can never know when they will die even if that person is young.
  • Jimi Hendrix: This lesson could also be learned from the death of Jimi Hendrix, who died without a will also. Because he lacked a will, his father and his adopted daughter received his entire estate through the intestacy laws instead of his brother who was close to Hendrix. 
  • Stieg Larsson: The lesson above could be more disastrous when the testator has a significant other that is not relative because they are not married. This happened to the writer of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson. Larsson passed away without writing a will, which prevented his girlfriend of 32 years from inheriting a portion of his estate. In the end, his father and brother inherited his estate.
  • Marlon Brando and Princess Diana: If a person wants to give a piece of property to someone, a person might want to consider placing his desires in writing within a will. In Marlon Brando's case, he promised Angela Borlaza that she would give her the house she lived in and continued employment in his company. Unfortunately, he never provided it in writing and so she had to settle with his estate. In Princess Diana's case, she did place it in writing, but not the proper form of writing. So, her wish to give her sons and godchildren 100,000 pounds each did not come to fruition, and her godchildren did not receive their inheritance. 
  • Warren Burger: The former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States found himself with a good amount of avoidable estate tax liability because he tried to write his own will. The lesson here is that a person might want to consider having a qualified estate planning attorney write his or her will. Even attorneys, who do not specialize in estate planning, can make small mistakes that could cost a person a good amount of money.
  • Florence "FloJo" Griffith Joyner: The Olympic sprinter had a will but failed to inform anyone on the whereabouts of her will. Therefore, a person might want to consider keeping his or her will in a safe place that his or her loved ones can locate following that person's death.
  • Heath Ledger: The late-actor forgot to update his will following the birth of his daughter. Thus, a person might want to strongly consider updating his or her will, especially following a major life event.
  • Michael Jackson: The late-singer had a pour-over will that placed of his assets within a trust, but he failed to fund it with assets. So, the lesson here to learn is that a person might want to consider funding the trust that he or she wants to create. 
  • Doris Duke: The tobacco heiress left an estate worth more than $1 billion. She nominated her butler to be the executor of her estate, which proved to be a mistake because the butler's spending was questionable. The judge removed the executor, but a high court placed him in that situation. So, a person might want to be careful about who that person selects to be an executor. 
  • Leona Helmsley: The billionaire heiress left a vast majority of her estate, $12 million, to her dog Trouble. Her grandchildren were upset with their grandmother and so they challenged the will on the basis that their grandmother was not competent to write a will. The lesson here is that if a person wants to write a will or a trust that outside the ordinary, then that person might want to take a mental competency test.
  • Etta James: The family of this blues singer fought her spouse and son to the singer's mental competency; therefore, the person needs to understand that it is important to sign a power of attorney.

See Erik Carter, What We Can Learn From Celebrity Estate Planning Gone Wrong, Forbes, Oct. 17, 2012.

Special thanks to Brian Cohan (Attorney at Law, Law Offices of Brian J. Cohan, P.C.) for bringing this article to my attention. 


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