Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Celebrity Estate Planning: Misfires of the Rich and Famous III

CelebrityWe tend to look at celebrities like they are supernatural, even immortal, which is probably why we are often shocked and confused when one of our favorite celebrities pass on. The truth is, like us, celebrities are normal people and like us, they often neglect estate planning. This is the truth despite the amount of attorneys and other representatives they have on their team. 

Discussed below are a couple of celebrity stories that will hopefully teach you a useful lesson on the importance of estate planning and the risks of avoiding the issue. 

Johnny Hallyday

You may know Hallyday as the "French Elvis." Hallyday died of lung cancer in December of 2017 at the age of 74. At the time of his death, Hallyday was married to his fourth wife when he passed and had adopted children as well as natural born children. 

Hallyday died with estate planning documents that had been executed in California that left his estate to Laeticia, his fourth wife and their two children upon her death. Hallyday's natural born children opposed this estate plan in French court arguing that French law should apply to Hallyday's estate. In 2019, a French court agreed with Hallyday's natural born children, finding that forced heirship applied. 

The lesson from this story is to make sure that your client knows exactly what they want and the emotional and financial battles that can result from certain estate planning decisions. 

In a like Hallyday's where the client may be able to choose their domicile, you will want to make sure you are clear as to which law will govern the estate. 

Stan Lee

Stan Lee is one of the creative minds behind Marvel. Lee died at the age of 95 in November of 2018. Despite his fame and contribution to the world, Lee was also subject to "predators who seek to take advantage of the elderly." Lee's estate was estimated at $80 million when he died. He was only survived by a daughter. 

After Lee's wife passed on, Lee was left without stable care and security. This lead to a battle between Lee's daughter and other people that had snaked their way into Lee's life. Lee realized that he had multiple people trying to manipulate him and steal his money and was forced to send out a "cry for help" in an affidavit. Luckily, one of these aforementioned snakes was arrested following an investigation by the Los Angeles Police. 

Lee had to spend his last months on this Earth protecting himself from elder abuse. If someone would do that to Stan Lee, you can bet your bottom dollar that they would do it to you too.


There are many, many more celebrity stories that shed light on the importance of estate planning and the risks associated with failing to do so. For more, 

See Jessica Galligan Goldsmith et al., Celebrity Estate Planning: Misfires of the Rich and Famous III, American Bar Association: Probate and Property, September/October 2020. 


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