Beyond The Will

Learning From Famous Mistakes: Part 1 – Dying Without A Will

October 24, 2019


Pop culture periodicals have been telling us for years that celebrities are “just like us” – they go grocery shopping, they drive their kids to school, they walk their dogs. This holds just as true in the Probate world as in the tasks of everyday life. This multi-part series will examine several famous mistakes that celebrities have made in their Wills and Trusts and will offer tips as to how we can avoid making those same mistakes.

  1. Dying Without a Will

With teams of lawyers and other advisors on hand and at the ready, how is it possible that a celebrity could die without any documents in place to control the disposition of their (generally very large) estates? Unfortunately, we’ve seen it happen time and time again, with recent well-known examples including Aretha Franklin, Prince, and Amy Winehouse. In each case, the deceased celebrity gave up the ability to nominate a fiduciary (i.e., the person who will administer the estate, manage the assets, and oversee the distributions), and most importantly gave up the ability to have any say in who will receive what portion of his/her substantial estate. In each case, the deceased celebrity’s assets will pass under the laws of “intestacy,” which differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction (and which we will examine in more detail in a future post examining Massachusetts’ intestacy statute).

The intestacy laws are problematic in each of these celebrity examples. In the case of Ms. Franklin, who died without a spouse but with surviving children, her assets presumably will pass to her four children; however, one of her children has special needs and likely would have benefited from special planning through trusts or otherwise. In the case of Prince, who died without a surviving spouse, children, or parents, his closest heirs and presumed takers are his sister and his five half-siblings, with the law making no differentiation between or among them. In the case of Ms. Winehouse, who died without a surviving spouse or children, her assets will pass to her parents, with no consideration given to her well-renowned love of and devotion to her ex-husband.

Don’t let this happen to you. No matter how small or large your estate is, take control of it by putting an estate plan into place rather than letting the state decide what should happen to your assets.


Until next time!

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