If you think celebrities are immune from estate battles, think again. While the world mourns when a famous singer or talented actress dies and shares clips and soundbites of their best hits, their families and heirs start the process of dividing up their existing assets and ongoing royalty stream. Many of the problems they face are the results of poor estate planning and can happen to anyone. Here are just a few cautionary tales.
- Jim Morrison: The lead singer for The Doors died
at only 27, leaving a simple will, modest assets, and a 25% interest in his
band. His will passed his entire estate to his girlfriend, Pamela Courson. When
his girlfriend died less than three years later, his parents made a claim
against her estate since the assets passed to her parents. Instead of a simple
will, a trust that left his assets to Pamela and then, on her death, his
siblings, may have been a better structure in this case. While it may seem like
you don’t own much, an overly simplistic will can still cause problems in the
event of a beneficiary who dies early.
- Heath Ledger: While famous for his posthumous
win for The Dark Knight, Ledger had
executed a valid Australian will which declared his residence to be western
Australia. Subsequently, he began dating Michelle Williams and had a daughter
with her. He purchased a life insurance policy for the daughter and though he
did not marry, the family settled in New York and even continued co-parenting
after separation. He never updated his will and so on his death in 2008, his
domicile, and thus the validity of the Australian will and whether his estate
was subject to estate taxes, was called into question. This estate illustrates
the importance of periodically updating your estate documents to ensure you’re
planning for all your loved ones and reflecting your current financial reality.
- Prince: Dying without a will at all means no one knows what your preferences are when it comes to spreading your estate. While the state has laws on intestate succession, this is often contested by family who feel they should get a portion. While Prince’s estate is worth hundreds of millions and has still not been settled and distributed to his heirs, his six cousins. Instead, the attorneys on the estate are running up bills, consulting with estate experts, and still not paying the estate tax bill. While for an estate that large and complicated, leaving a will may not have simplified matters, it would give the heirs a better way to control spending and how asset decisions are made.
The team at Dunn Law Firm works regularly to help individuals with a wide variety of assets, family structures, and estate goals to set up and review estates. To learn more, reach out to the Utah and Nevada estate planning attorneys at Dunn Law Firm by calling (435) 628-5405 to set up a free consultation today.