Friday, July 23, 2021

Celebrities who neglected to make a will


You'd think that making a will was a priority for any wealthy individual, but especially a successful celebrity whose personal assets can be worth tens or hundreds of millions (if not more). But there are many stars out there who appear not to have had the will power to make this most fundamental of provisos, and ended up causing all sorts of legal headaches for those left behind.

Let's find out who died intestate, because where there's a will there's a way.

Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865)

Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, was shot by John Wilkes Booth on April 14, 1865 and died the following day. An esteemed lawyer, Lincoln nonetheless neglected to create a will. The oversight prompted a two-year legal battle by Lincoln's family to take control of the late president's estate.

Pablo Picasso (1881–1973)

When Spanish painter and sculptor Pablo Picasso died at age 91 on April 8, 1973, he left behind approximately 45,000 works of art, but no will. In addition, the Cubist master owned several homes and had a considerable amount of gold and cash stashed away. It took six years of often contentious negotiations between family members and other claimants before his estate was settled.

Howard Hughes (1905–1976)

Eccentric billionaire business magnate and notorious recluse Howard Hughes died on April 5, 1976, aged 70, as one of the world's richest men. But Hughes had no direct descendants or immediate family, and he didn't leave behind a will, a fact that set off a frenzied scramble for control of his estate. A will said to be made in Hughes' hand was later declared a forgery. Among the beneficiaries listed was gas station owner Melvin Dummar, who in 1967 claimed he'd offered a disheveled and scruffy man lying beside the road a lift while driving through Nevada. The man told Dummar he was Howard Hughes. Years later, Dummar insisted that he'd received a copy of the will and been left an estimated US$156 million. A film, 'Melvin and Howard' (1980) directed by Jonathan Demme, was inspired by Dummar's story. Ultimately, Hughes' money was divided among descendants on both his mother's and his father's side.

Jimi Hendrix (1942–1970)

His sudden and accidental death from asphyxiation contributed by substance abuse meant that Jimi Hendrix, regarded as arguably the best guitarist in rock music history, died intestate. The ensuing battle over his estate raged on for more than 30 years.

James Dean (1931–1955)

James Dean achieved immortality after crashing his Porsche on a California  highway on September 30, 1955. He died almost instantly, and without having made a will. State law awarded most of his modest estate to his father, Winton. Most of that is now in the hands of his father’s relatives.

Amy Winehouse (1983–2011)

In her short career, English singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse made a huge impact on the international music scene. She succumbed to alcohol poisoning on July 23, 2011, at the age of 27, having made no will. Her entire probate estate, which reportedly had an after-tax value of nearly US$4.7 million, went to her parents.

Prince (1958–2016)

Prince, one of the most influential recording artists of his generation, died of an accidental overdose of fentanyl, a powerful opioid, on April 21, 2016. The absence of a will meant that among other consequences, 700 people stepped up each claiming they were a sibling in the hope of grabbing a share of his millions.

Martin Luther King Jr. (1929–1968)

Assassinated on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. died without making a will. This subsequently led to infighting among his children over the estate, with claims of mismanagement and the misappropriation of assets.

Bob Marley (1945–1981)

Cancer caught up with reggae supremo Bob Marley on May 11, 1981. He died intestate, believing that writing out a will "showed an inappropriate concern with earthly matters," according to the Caribbean National Weekly. Eventually in 1991, his estate, worth an estimated US$30 million at the time he passed away, was settled in court and left in the hands of his family.

Kurt Cobain (1967–1994)

Kurt Cobain committed suicide on April 5, 1994. The Nirvana front man left behind a widow and young daughter, but no will. The laws of intestacy meant that Cobain's wife, Courtney Love, gained the right to manage his estate. Legal wrangling and lawsuits ensued, and while Love still benefits from the singer's fortune, it is his daughter, Frances Bean, who controls the publicity rights to her father's name and image.

Tupac Shakur (1971–1996)

At just 25 years old, rapper and actor Tupac Shakur had probably never entertained the thought of making a will before he was shot and killed in a Las Vegas drive-by shooting on September 7, 1996. As a result of there being no will,  his mother, Afeni Shakur, managed his estate until she died in 2016. As of 2019, Tupac's estate was estimated to be worth around US$40 million, the management of which is largely in the hands of the record companies with whom he worked.

Sony Bono (1935–1998)

Salvatore Phillip "Sonny" Bono was best known as one half of the enormously successful singing duo Sonny & Cher. In later life, he became a politician, and in 1994 was elected to the United States House of Representatives to represent California. He died in a skiing accident in 1998 without having made a will, an oversight that meant his estate was placed into the California probate process. His wife, Mary, had to petition to be appointed executor, which only complicated matters and further increased legals costs.

Barry White (1944–2003)

Barry White fused soul, funk, and disco to create a unique sound that epitomized the vibe of the '70s. He died on July 4, 2003, having not updated his will for many years. White suffered ill health later in life, but even his declining physical condition wasn't enough to prompt the singer to draw up a will. As a result, his family experienced additional legal trauma as they grieved for the man affectionately known as the "walrus of love."

Stieg Larsson (1954–2004)

Swedish journalist and writer Stieg Larsson became a best-selling author with his 'Millennium' series of crime novels, one of which, 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,' was adapted into a hugely successful film starring Daniel Craig. Unfortunately, Larsson only achieved international fame and fortune after his sudden death on November 9, 2004, aged just 50. Having made no will, Larsson's 32-year relationship with his companion and collaborator Eva Gabrielsson was not recognized by Swedish intestacy law as grounds for her inheriting the late author's literary estate, by now worth a considerable sum. Had the couple been married, however, she would have been entitled to the rights to his work. Instead, Larsson's entire estate was divided between his father and brother. 

Marvin Gaye (1939–1984)

Motown legend Marvin Gaye was shot and killed by his father on April 1, 1984. The singer died without a valid will and was in considerable debt. It was left to Gaye's lawyers to seek the appointment of administrators to reimburse creditors. In time, the estate was able to pay off the debt and the singer's children today enjoy an equal share of the income generated from their father's royalties, image rights, and the rights to his life story.

Billie Holiday (1915–1959)

One of the great singers of the jazz and swing music era, Billie Holiday left this world on July 17, 1956. She died intestate, meaning that her fourth husband Louis McKay, to whom she was estranged but not divorced, inherited her estate including all royalties.

John Denver (1943–1997)

When the plane John Denver was piloting dipped into Monterey Bay on October 12, 1997, the music world lost one of its most endearing singer-songwriters. Denver died without a will and his ex-wife Annie (to whom his massive hit 'Annie's Song' was written for in 1974) was appointed the administrator of the estate. His assets were divided between his three children.

Rita Hayworth (1918–1987)

One of classic Hollywood's most glamorous stars, Rita Hayworth died on May 14, 1987 without a valid will. Her daughter, Yasmin Aga Khan, was appointed administrator of her estate by New York Surrogate's Court.

Duke Ellington (1899–1974)

Composer, pianist, and jazz orchestra band leader Duke Ellington died on May 24, 1974 a will-less widower. His entire estate passed to his son, Mercer K. Ellington. 

Jayne Mansfield (1933–1967)

Hollywood actress and glamorous pinup Jayne Mansfield lost her life in a dreadful auto wreck on June 29, 1967. She died intestate, with several individuals including two ex-husbands, Mickey Hargitay and Matt Climber, plus her business manager and various administrators of the estate, all filing suits to gain full control of her estate, but without success.

George Gershwin (1898–1937)

Composer George Gershwin, whose credits include 'Rhapsody in Blue' (1924) and 'An American in Paris' (1928), enjoyed huge success and a considerable fortune during his lifetime. But he never made a will. After his death on July 11, 1937, Gershwin’s entire estate was inherited by his mother, Rose Gershwin. 

Sam Cooke (1931–1964)

Influential soul artist Sam Cooke was shot and killed by the manager of a motel in Los Angeles on December 11, 1964. He died having neglected to draw up a will without which the singer was unable to direct his estate in the way that he wished.

Nate Dogg (1969–2011)

Had rapper Nate Dogg completed a will before dying of heart failure on March 15, 2011, his six children would have benefited from a substantial cash inheritance and property portfolio. He was also divorced at the time of his death, therefore leaving no surviving spouse to inherit under intestate succession laws.

James Brown (1933–2006)

Even when celebrities remember to do so, drawing up a last will and testament can be found wanting for lack of clarity or for sheer forgetfulness. Although James Brown left a will, it wasn't specific enough, especially relating to the status of his last partner, Tomi Rae Hynie, who claimed to be his wife but failed to annul a previous marriage. This meant she did not have a right to his multi-million-dollar estate. Instead, a sizable proportion of the wealth accumulated by the "Godfather of Soul" went to children's charities, his dying wish.

Heath Ledger (1979–2008)

Hollywood lost one of its brightest stars when on January 22, 2008 Heath Ledger died from accidental abuse of prescribed medications. The movie star had made a will, but hadn't updated it to reflect the fact that in 2005 he and partner Michelle Williams had a daughter, Matilda. Fortunately, the actor's parents and sisters gifted everything to the little girl.

Michael Jackson (1958–2009)

Michael Jackson's sudden death on June 25, 2009 shocked the world. It turned out that the "King of Pop" had in fact drawn up several wills, with each subsequently contended by members of the Jackson family, some of whom were denied any inheritance. Meanwhile, the estate continues to generate millions of dollars.

Adam Goldstein (1973–2009)

DJ Adam Goldstein, known professionally as DJ AM, found fame in the clubs and hotels of Los Angeles and Las Vegas before dying of an accidental narcotics overdose on August 28, 2009. He left a US$1 million estate and no will. His mother became the sole heir.

J. Howard Marshall II (1905–1995)

One of the more bizarre cases of a contested will in recent years is that surrounding billionaire businessman J. Howard Marshall II, who was married to Anna Nicole Smith during the last 14 months of his life. After J. Howard's death at age 90, Smith became embroiled in a court battle with her former stepson, E. Pierce Marshall, for a slice of the magnate's millions. She ultimately failed, and would die in 2007 of an accidental overdose of prescription drugs. J. Howard Marshall II is pictured at Haverford College in 1925.

Steve McNair (1973–2009)

NFL quarterback Steve McNair was fatally shot by his mistress, Sahel Kazemi, in a murder–suicide on July 4, 2009. The football star died intestate resulting in his assets being frozen in probate. Thus began a prolonged and bitterly fought dispute between McNair's widow, Mechelle, and his mother, Lucille.

Aretha Franklin (1942–2018)

The "Queen of Soul" died on August 16, 2018, without having made a will. Though urged repeatedly by her lawyers to do so, the singer brushed off the advice. Three handwritten wills were later discovered by Franklin's niece, who had been appointed by the court to act as personal representative of the late singer's estate. Disorganized and appearing more like rough drafts, the documents have so far been dismissed as non-biding. A trial to decide which will is valid and who will control the estate's business matters is expected to start in August 2021.

 Stars Insider


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Item Reviewed: Celebrities who neglected to make a will Rating: 5 Reviewed By: BUXONE