Celebrity Estate Planning Horror StoriesHere are some other well-known celebrities who have made some very unfortunate estate planning mistakes.

  • The Artist Formerly Known as Prince” Died Without a Will. Prince had no estate plan of any kind, leaving his estimated $300 million estate to a Minnesota court to decide how it would be distributed.  A number of individuals, claiming to be his heirs, came out of the woodwork to add to the hassle of the already slow-moving, expensive and public legal process to settle his estate.
  • Whitney Houston Failed to Update Her Estate Plan. Whitney Houston had a Will drafted in 1993, prior to the birth of her daughter, Bobbi Kristina, which provided for any future child of hers to inherit a 10% share of the estate at the age of 21.  Whitney’s estate had grown to $20 million by the time of her tragic death in 2012.  The terms of Houston’s Will were drafted with no consideration of how much 10% of her estate would turn out to be and whether the inheritance of that amount at a young age was in the best interest of her child. So, Bobbi Kristina received $2 million at the age of 21.  Unfortunately, shortly after, she died due to a drowning tied to drug intoxication.  Had Houston updated her Will, or upgraded her estate plan to a Living Trust, she could have placed better provisions in her plan for when and how much would be distributed to her daughter and how the rest would be properly managed for her until she was ready to receive it.
  • Sonny Bono Died Without a Will. Sonny Bono passed away in January 1998 from a tragic ski accident and he died intestate, leaving his estate also to go through the Probate process.  The settlement of his estate dragged on for years.  A $1.6 million claim was filed by Bono’s second wife, Cher, for unpaid spousal support and another person claiming to be an illegitimate child demanded a share.
  • Chadwick Boseman Died Without a Will. News of actor Chadwick Boseman’s passing shocked the world in August 2020.  At the young age of 43, Boseman died following a four-year battle with progressive colon cancer.  Despite being diagnosed with a terminal illness, Boseman never got an estate plan in place. Boseman’s widow was granted control of the estate in November and settled the disputed estate, with half of it going to her and half going to his parents.  Maybe that’s what he would have wanted, maybe not.
  • Larry King Handwrote a “Secret” Will. Prior to Larry King’s passing in January 2021, he had taken the time to put a will in place back in 2015.  However, a secret handwritten Will from 2019 surfaced, which was written just two months after King filed for divorce from his estranged wife.  This handwritten Will instructed that his $144 million estate be split equally between his five children, cutting his estranged wife out.  Unfortunately for his children, the validity of this handwritten Will was called into question, particularly because there was another estate plan already in place.  He should have had the changes to his estate plan drafted by an attorney who could testify to his mental capacity and intent, and the fact he was not under any undue or outside influence. So, while those may have been his actual wishes, his failure to properly seek legal counsel and update his estate plan properly was the cause of this estate planning disaster. And it’s not over yet.  The last known update to this matter was in April 2021, where King’s estranged widow, filed to be made executor of the estate.
  • Heath Ledger Failed to Update His Estate Plan. Actor Heath Ledger died in January 2008.  He had an outdated Will, which did not include after-born children and he had not updated it prior to the birth of his daughter, Matilda, with then unmarried partner, actress Michelle Williams.  As a result, his entire $20 million estate went to his parents and three sisters.  Fortunately, Ledger’s family arranged for his entire estate to go to a trust set up for the sole benefit of his daughter, which is where they believed the late actor would have wanted it to go.  However, the lesson here was that he could have inadvertently left his daughter with nothing, as his parents and siblings were not legally obligated to do anything for his daughter.  A well-drafted estate plan would have language that should reflect your wishes concerning any natural born, adopted or stepchildren that you may have now or in the future.
  • Britney Spears’ Conservatorship. As discussed in a prior article, pop-star Britney Spears was involved in a 12-year conservatorship, while she was an adult, brought by her father, Jamie Spears, who contended she was unable to properly handle her own affairs.  After years of his control and what she claimed was his mismanagement of her life decisions and improper personal use of her money, she finally brought a court action to take back control.  If Spears had a properly drafted Living Trust in place prior to her father filing for Conservatorship, she could have ensured that the person or persons of her choosing were put into place to take over her affairs ifs he couldn’t handle them and could have also put in provisions for her to later step back in when appropriate - - without the aggravation, publicity, expense and delays of a Court conservatorship.
  • Michael Jackson Had a Living Trust But Failed to Fund It. The King of Pop, unlike many of the stories above, actually had prepared a Living Trust.  However, he made the mistake of not funding the trust, meaning he did not properly retitle assets so they were in the name of the trust.  If he had, his estate could have avoided Probate.    Unfortunately, Jackson’s $500 million estate wound up going through a Probate Court process that was very public, embarrassing, expensive and involved a number of time-consuming legal battles.

Most of these estate planning disasters - - due to a lack of knowledge, failure to keep things up-to-date, or just plain procrastination - - could have been easily avoided with a properly built and maintained estate plan, including a Living Trust.  This is where we can help.

Whether you have an estate plan or not, we invite you to attend one of our upcoming FREE seminars to learn more about the importance of properly drafted and up-to-date estate planning and how the Law Firm of Kavesh, Minor & Otis can help you avoid these kinds of estate planning disasters!  At the conclusion of the seminar, all attendees will have the opportunity to schedule a free consultation with an attorney in our office and receive a special fee discount toward setting up (or updating) a Living Trust. If you already have a plan, this is a fantastic opportunity to get a second opinion and help ensure that your plan has been properly built and maintained for you and your family’s needs and circumstances.  We hope to see you at a seminar soon!

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Sources: Vanity Fair, AARP, WealthManagement.com, Gage Skidmore, Gabriel Weinstein, tm_10001, Francesco
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