It’s National Estate Planning Week and while it doesn’t involve costumes or gourds full of candy, celebrating can still be fun. Which brings us to these examples of “unique” (i.e. over the top, kooky, crazy, or weird) estate plan provisions of the rich and famous. In the past we’ve highlighted the unfortunate circumstances of celebrities who died without a valid estate plan dictating to whom they want their assets to go. The lesson there? Don’t leave it up to others what should happen with your property!
Today’s lesson? Your estate plan is unique and you can employ different planning strategies and tools to make whatever (legal) requests and bequests about your estate you wish…even if they’re a little different.
Gene Roddenberry, Creator of Star Trek
Roddenberry created the original Star Trek television series and was obsessed with space. So, it was actually fitting he requested a celestial burial. He passed away in 1991 and his request for a disposition of his final remains in deep space was fulfilled in 1997. Roddenberry was cremated and a part of his remains was put on a rocket and launched into orbit. His wife Majel, who played Christine Chapel in the original Star Trek and died in 2008, also elected for a space burial with the same company (Celetis).
Harry Houdini, Magician
Famous magician Houdini conducted séances during his life and wanted his wife, Bess, to continue the practice upon his own death. A clause in Houdini’s (otherwise “normal”) will requested his wife conduct an annual “session” with the afterlife. Houdini had his wife memorize a secret “code” that he thought would use identification to prove communication from the “other side.” She honored the request for 10 years on Halloween, the anniversary of her husband’s death.
Oprah, Media Mogul
Oprah is the living (thank goodness, let’s not imagine a world without Oprah in it) spokesperson of the benefits of an animal care trust! Reportedly, Oprah has established a trust funded with $30 million for her pet dogs, so that they will continue to have a high level of treatment and care. Sure, a cool $30 mil is more than you or I will ever see in our lifetimes, but compared to Oprah’s total estate it’s just a drop in the bucket. Plus, she plans to give the bulk of her $3 billion estate to charitable causes! “When I’m gone, everything that I have is going to go to charity because I don’t have children. And I believe that that’s what you should do,” she said. “To whom much is given, much should be given back.”
Janis Joplin, Rock Singer-Songwriter
The infamous Joplin tragically passed at the age of 27 in 1970 from a drug overdose. Joplin carried her nonstop party spirit into her will where she left behind $2,500 (which is like the 2018 equivalent of $16,000) for her best friends to have a rocking wake party. A few weeks after her death, the party was indeed thrown in California.
Adam Yauch, Singer, Beastie Boys Co-Founder
The talented artist’s will set the record straight for the future of his music. He provided limitations in the use of his likeness and his music with the provision: “in no event may my image or name or any music or any artistic property created by me be used for advertising purposes.” (Whether or not this request is enforceable, regarding a legal difference between publicity rights and copyrights is whole other story.)
William Randolf Hearst, Publisher
Apparently there were rumors circulating that the publishing powerhouse/politician who died in 1951 had fathered illegitimate children. He unequivocally denied this even in his last will and testament, offering anyone who could prove such would inherit $1: “that he or she is a child of mine . . . the sum of one dollar. I hereby declare that any such asserted claim . . . would be utterly false.” No claims came forward alleging paternity, so there must have been something true behind the provision!
Benjamin Franklin, Founding Father/Politician
Franklin devised a picture frame to his daughter containing more than 400 diamonds. He left the frame (and thus the gems) to his daughter Sarah under the express provision that she “not engage the expensive, vain and useless pastime of wearing jewels.” He apparently didn’t want her to remove the diamonds from the frame…apparently the request was not honored.
Just like these interesting wills, your estate plan is entirely your own. You can elect to pass your assets on to whomever you wish including your pets, kids, and favorite charities. But, you can’t record these requests until you execute an estate plan! (Remember, a will is one of the multiple documents found in an estate plan.) Get started with my free Estate Plan Questionnaire and contact me for a free consult!