FOUR CELEBRITIES WHO DIDN’T, AND ONE WHO DID

In a blog post and the Johnson & Associates Fall Newsletter last year, we addressed some of the problems occurring due to a lack of estate planning on the part of celebrities who had passed away. With millions of dollars at stake and years of litigation, the failure to plan ahead certainly was costly. Here are a few examples:

Pop star Prince, who passed away in April of 2016, left no estate planning documents. With no will or trust to guide the disposition of his estimated $200 million net worth, judges, banks, and lawyers have done most of the decision-making. As of 2018, legal fees had exceeded six million dollars, with another three million dollars in legal fees pending. At that time, Prince’s heirs (his six siblings, according to Minnesota law) had yet to see a penny of their inheritance.

Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, who died in August of 2018, had no will or trust to direct her estate. She left an estimated $80 million to be disposed of without the benefit of knowing her wishes in the matter. The processing of her estate, with multiple attorneys involved, has been moving slowly through the courts, with the new development that one of her former husbands has demanded a share of her fortune as well.

Famed Jamaican reggae star Bob Marley, whose estate was estimated to be valued near $30 million when he passed away in 1981, had no estate planning documents completed at the time of his death, leaving his wife and 11 children, among others, to fight over dollar amounts, royalties, commercial rights ownership, and a multitude of other estate issues. That legal battle continued for over 30 years.

Guitarist Jimi Hendrix, who died in 1970, had an estate that was estimated to be around $5 million when he passed away, but which is now worth closer to $175 million. Hendrix left no will, and his estate ended up in court disputes for decades. Lawsuits involving Hendrix’s father’s claims, stepsister, and most recently, his brother, have clogged the courts for nearly 50 years, with one claimant blocking or suing another over property, finances, branding, and so forth. The most recent lawsuits involving Hendrix’s estate were filed in 2018, 48 years after the guitarist’s untimely passing.

In contrast, many fans were unprepared for actor Luke Perry’s unexpected passing in early March, but Perry himself appears to have been prepared. His estimated $10 million estate was reportedly left to his two children, and according to interviews in recent years, the motivation for Perry’s estate planning was his 2015 cancer scare. At the time, Perry took the time to complete necessary estate planning because he “didn’t want to leave anything to chance.” Despite the fact that it took a bout with cancer to motivate the move, Perry’s decision to complete a will has left no question about his intentions, and has given his children the opportunity to move forward with their lives—rather than having to spend significant time and money in court. Another benefit of Perry’s estate planning was the family’s ability to make the decision to take him off of life support. In California, the ability to make this decision generally comes through a Power of Attorney or Advance Directive, thus avoiding the publicity, emotion, and time involved with Probate Court.

We’ve had many people say to us, “I know I really ought to have something in place. I just haven’t gotten around to it.” Indeed, an estimated 70% of Americans simply haven’t gotten around to it. The question, then, is what kind of legacy one wishes to leave. Drama, family fights, courtroom struggles, attorneys’ fees, and years of litigation are easy to avoid. A professional estate planning attorney can help you ensure that your wishes are indeed carried out. Contrasted with other celebrities, Luke Perry’s example certainly makes this clear. If you, your friends, or your loved ones are in the position of not having “gotten around to it,” now may be the time. Proper estate planning offers a foolproof method of not being remembered with descriptions such as “costly,” “lawsuits,” “attorney’s fees,” and “fights.”