We’ve previously blogged about the importance of having a will here (and updating your estate plan here). Too often, however, individuals fail to take the steps necessary to draft a will or set up a proper estate plan; this is even true for celebrities and many people of note. Below are some examples of estate issues that could have been prevented with a proper estate plan.
The former entertainer-turned- congressman Salvatore Phillip “Sonny” Bono died in a 1998 skiing accident, leaving no will or estate plan. As a result, his surviving wife had to petition the probate court to be appointed the estate’s administrator. She was then also required to seek court permission in order to continue the various business ventures in which Sonny was involved, and to settle the multiple claims against the estate (including one from Sonny’s prior spouse, Cher).
The iconic artist Pablo Picasso, who died in 1973 with an estate valued at over $200 million, also neglected to leave a will. As a result, Picasso’s heirs, including his widow, Jacqueline Roque, squabbled for six years over the distribution of thousands of paintings, sculptures and drawings worth millions of dollars.
Warren E. Burger
The U.S. Supreme Court Justice Warren E. Burger, who died in 1995, apparently typed his own will (consisting of only 176 words with several typographical errors). As a result, his family had to pay over $450,000 in taxes and had to seek the permission of the probate court to complete required administrative tasks like selling real estate.
In 2003, when Heath Ledger, the notable “Dark Knight” actor died, it was revealed that he had failed to update the will he had prepared prior to his relationship with Michelle Williams and the subsequent birth of their daughter, Matilda. The will he had left gave his estimated $20 million dollar estate to his parents and his sisters, without providing for his child or Michelle, his significant other.
In her will, Marilyn Monroe left three quarters of her estate to her acting coach, Lee Strasberg. However, when Strasberg died, his interest in Marilyn’s estate went to his third wife, Anna, who had never even met Monroe.
Anna was able to license Monroe’s persona to hundreds of companies (including Mercedes-Benz and Coca-Cola), auction off many of Monroe’s personal belonging and then ultimately sell the remainder of the Monroe estate for an estimated $20 million to $30 million.
It’s unlikely Monroe would have wanted someone she had not even known to be able to deal with her assets and profit so handsomely. A trust would have provided for Strasberg while he was alive and then after his death could have directed the remainder of her estate to someone of her choosing.
Considering the resources and lawyers presumably available to the above individuals, as well as the significant assets at stake, each should have implemented a proper estate plan. Yet, as illustrated above, often even celebrities and people of note die with inadequate (or non-existent) estate plans.
Thank you for reading,