famous people estate planning

Celebrity Estate Planning Mistakes and What We Can Learn from Them

Aug-16 2023

You’d think you have nothing in common with the incredibly famous. Yes, we’re talking Michael Jackson, Picasso, and Princess Diana level famous. But, if you have nothing else in common, you certainly have the fact that you too, are at risk of dying without a will if you don’t take your estate planning seriously. Many famous people have died without a will to the detriment of their families and beneficiaries. Dying without a will, also known as dying ‘intestate,’ basically means your wishes aren’t recorded and how your estate is divided is simply based on the laws that govern your state. 

Intestacy laws vary state by state and often favor a hierarchical repartition of assets and property. This of course does not account for complex family dynamics, personal choice, and more. Having a robust estate plan is the only way to ensure your chosen beneficiaries will inherit what you care to leave them and to avoid negative repercussions on your loved ones. 

Their Fortunes Were Inherited by the Wrong People

Jimi Hendrix 
What Happened 

When Jimi Hendrix died at age 27, he did not have a will. As per intestacy laws, his father inherited his estate. Jimi would have preferred his estate (at least in part) to go to his brother, Leon, whom he was close to. 

Like many artists, Jimi’s estate continued to make money even after his death, due to financial structures such as royalties. It is now worth over $200 million and it continues to accrue money. 

When Jimi died, Al, his father updated his will to split up his assets between his children and grandchildren, but had a change of heart in his last few years, resulting in Leon being completely cut out of the will. Leon has since filed multiple court cases in attempts to receive some inheritance. 

What Can We Learn 
  • Without a will, your chosen beneficiaries may not get anything at all 

  • Your estate can continue to make money after you’re gone, if you have stocks and bonds, for instance. This can make the difference in building generational wealth, but only if you make sure your estate gets into the right hands. 

  • Not having a will can mean prolonged negative situations for your loved ones, from complicated grief to court cases 

  • You’re never too young to have a will, regardless of your financial situation! Think about the following: who do you want to inherit the family heirloom you inherited, your computer, or your Xbox, for example?

Amy Winehouse
What Happened 

Upon Amy Winehouse’s death, her parents inherited her fortune, as per state intestacy laws. At the time of her death, Amy was 27. According to numerous accounts, Amy wasn’t close to her father and would have preferred for others to inherit her estate, most notably, her brother and ex-husband. Neither of them got anything from her father, although nearly a decade later, her ex-husband did win a $1 million claim on her original estate. 

What Can We Learn 
  • Bereavement and grief are complicated things all on their own and the administrative tasks of organizing after death simply add to these complex emotions. Allow your loved ones to grieve you in peace by ensuring everything is properly set up for them. 

  • 27 may seem young, but as you can gather, it’s never too soon to start your estate plan. Even if you don’t have millions, you have some financial and digital accounts, personal belongings, etc, and personal wishes for how they should be managed.

Their Loved Ones Ended Up Battling Over the Inheritance

What Happened 

Prince passed away at the age of 57 without a will. Family members and loved ones spent over 6 years in court and $10 million in legal fees trying to get their share of the estate valued at over $150 million. When the Minnesota court was able to settle the dispute, the estate was divided between six heirs, Prince’s half-siblings, and their families. 

What Can We Learn 
  • Not having a will could cost your loved ones a lot - emotionally and financially. Think of all the lawyer and court fees you could save them, simply by making your wishes clear and legal. 

Pablo Picasso
What Happened 

Pablo Picasso died at the age of 91. He had plenty of time to prepare an estate plan but didn’t, which cost his loved ones time, money, and stress. The fortune Picasso left behind was a big one, comprised of multiple homes, artwork, money, and other financial assets such as gold and bonds. It was a timely battle fought between potential heirs that took upwards of 6 years and cost over $30 million. This time and money could’ve been spent on better things.  

What Can We Learn 
  • Not having a will may end up costing your loved ones time and money. You wouldn’t want them using up their inheritance or their own money on fighting for what you want to leave them. When it comes to generational wealth, legal battles over estates can get in the way of assuring a prosperous future. 

Bob Marley
What Happened 

Bob Marley made a conscious choice to not have a will due to his beliefs. His family underwent an over 30-year-long legal battle to receive the inheritance they felt they were due. As Jamaican intestacy law should have it, Bob Marley’s assets were divided among his 11 children and his wife, Rita. That would mean that Rita would receive only 10% of his assets. 

After following legal advice from Marley’s business attorney, Rita forged some documents to give her control over a larger portion of his estate which ultimately ended up in her losing control of his estate completely. 

Further, Marley’s estate continued to accrue millions of dollars, further complicating the situation. 

If this estate had been in certain US states, for instance, Rita may have inherited half or more of the estate and the kids, equal shares of the remaining. 

What Can We Learn 
  • Without a will, your family will most likely end up in court. Said legal battle could be a lengthy one. Give the gift of certitude to your family and loved ones, and draft an estate plan. 

  • Not having a will can have your loved ones resulting in illegal practices, in turn creating avoidable complications.

  • If you have assets that will continue to accrue money over time, it may be even more crucial for you to have a robust estate plan in place to ensure the prosperity of your generational wealth. 

  • Intestacy and estate planning laws vary from place to place, country to country, state to state. Make sure you stay up to date on what you need to make your plan. 

They Had Wills But It Still Got Complicated

Diana, Princess of Wales 
What Happened 

Technically Princess Diana had a will in place when she died tragically in a car accident. While being mourned by the entire world, a document which was titled her “Letter of Wishes” surfaced. In these letters, the princess made amendments to her legal will which would give her godchildren a larger portion of her estate. The document was not determined to be legal and was, in the end, disregarded. 

What Can We Learn 
  • When drawing up your estate plan or updating it, you need to make sure that your wishes are properly recorded and your documents are legal

Michael Jackson
What Happened 

When Michael Jackson died, his will was heavily contested by people who had been left out of the will. They called it “fraudulent” and “false” and halted the legal proceedings. The King of Pop had created multiple amendments to his will throughout his life which the left-out close ones used to try to assert the most favorable version to them was the right one. 

What Can We Learn
  • It is incredibly important to make sure that your will is valid to avoid complications between heirs and loved ones after you are no longer here to handle them.

At GoodTrust, we are committed to democratizing Estate Planning for all, regardless of wealth, health, and age. You don't need to be famous or wealthy to need an estate plan. All your belongings, physical and digital, from houses to family heirlooms, are valuable and deserve to be properly allocated just like your beneficiaries deserve to receive them. Get started with your estate plan today, here!