After Prince’s unfortunate death in 2016 the news featured a multitude of articles commemorating his life and artistic influence. After those headlines faded, a new piece of news emerged: the artist died without a will. His estate, estimated to be between $150-$300 million, went to probate in the state of Minnesota and the state court appointed a special administrator to parcel out what Prince actually owned, the value of the property, and whom will actually receive the assets.
It’s a bad idea for anyone to die without an estate plan in place, as it leaves a great deal up to the law of intestate succession. Most people would prefer to choose their beneficiaries and a trusted executor to carry out their wishes. Under intestacy laws, you cannot choose these important people. You also cannot use your estate plan to achieve goals to reduce or eliminate income, estate, or inheritance taxes. Basically, without a will, you have no control over who gets what of your hard-earned assets at death.
Unfortunately, far too many people (six out of 10 Americans) don’t have estate planning documents like a will or living trust. Plus, since celebrities often have complex and highly valuable assets, dying intestate is often an extremely complicated, litigious affair. (For the sake of your friends, family, and lasting legacy avoiding litigation is a good goal to have with an estate plan.) For instance, a big question in the Prince case is who will be the beneficiary of perhaps one of the most persistently valuable assets—the right of publicity, which includes elements like Prince’s name and likeness.
While the average Iowan won’t have to consider publicity rights a part of their estate, there are at least six key documents celebs and the non-famous alike should have that cover important elements like finances, healthcare, and personal disposition of property.
Learn from Prince and these other five celebrities (among many more) who passed away without the proper estate planning in place:
Howard Hughes, entrepreneur/producer/aviator
Hughes died on a flight in 1976 with no surviving spouse, child, parent, or sibling. Without a will, his $500 million-valued estate was eventually decided by a small Texas county probate court jury five years after his passing. The probate had brought about a “circus-like” atmosphere as more than 600 people showed up in person claiming to be “wives, sons, daughters, first, second, third, fourth and fifth cousins” of the late Hughes (and that didn’t count all the people who petitioned via letter). A couple of wills were also produced but were eventually thrown out as fakes.
Amy Winehouse, singer/songwriter
The British artist died in 2011 when she was just 27. Without a will, her estate worth millions went to her parents. Say, even if Winehouse did want her brother to inherit part of the estate, he couldn’t because of (U.K.) laws covering who inherits what.
Tupac Shakur, rapper/actor
Shakur was tragically shot and killed in 1996 at the young age of 25; after his death, “his mother had to file court papers establishing herself as the administrator of his estate and the sole living heir.” Shakur also left a complex web of financial dealings, spendings, and debts to figure out. Shakur’s estate was made more complicated over the years through several albums of his music (intellectual property) released posthumously. Additionally, Tupac’s biological father lost a lawsuit claiming he was entitled to half of the estate.
Pablo Picasso, artist
It took more than six years of “bitter negotiations” for Picasso’s estate to be settled (for a pricey $30 million) after he died in 1973. Picasso passed at the ripe old age of 91 but did so without a will, so his assets were divided amongst seven familiar heirs. Picasso left a massive amount of valuable assets including 45,000 works of art, five homes, $4.5 million cash, $1.3 in gold, stocks, and bonds. “In 1980 the Picasso estate was appraised at $250 million, but experts have said the true value was actually in the billions.”
Sonny Bono, singer/U.S. Representative
Bono passed away in 1998 following a fatal skiing accident with no will to his name. Issues flared when Cher (of their former pop duo Sonny & Cher) alleged he owned her past due alimony and a man named Sean Machu said he was Bono’s illegitimate child. His fourth spouse became the estate’s administrator.
Billie Holiday, jazz musician/singer
The famed singer’s estate at the time of her death stands as a paradox to her modern posthumous fame. When Holiday died in 1959 she had “$0.70 in the bank and $750 strapped to her leg.” Since she died intestate under New York state law all of her royalties went to her estranged husband Louis McKay. Her total estate only continued to grow after her death including four Grammy awards, a movie about her life starring Diana Ross, and induction into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
You, yes you, can be a star too, but you need to have an estate plan in place to protect your legacy. The best way to get started is with my free (no obligation) estate plan questionnaire. Or, contact me to discuss your individual situation. Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or give me a call at 515-371-6077.