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To Be Or Not to Be–Without a Will

by | Mar 22, 2018 | Firm News |

What do Sonny Bono, Jimi Hendrix, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Abraham Lincoln, Bob Marley, Picasso, and Prince all have in common?

They died intestate—that is, they died without having a will. While the lives of many celebrities are often very open to the public, it is often unclear what happens to any given celebrity’s estate after death.

You may be surprised to learn about the number of famous people who did not have a will or estate plan–considering the large amounts of wealth they accrued over their lifetimes, as well as the moneys their estates continue to earn after their deaths. Here’s a snapshot of the aftershocks from 10 highly visible people who died without wills and what happened to their estates.

1. Abraham Lincoln

When Abraham Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, he did not have an estate plan in place. Justice David Davis of the US Supreme Court took on his estate, and had to petition the court to divide the $85,000 estate amongst his wife and two living children.

2. Prince

Prince made his decision to not have an estate plan due to a bad experience he had with an attorney at an early point in his career. His unexpected death in 2016 has left his siblings sorting through the mess of his estate.

3. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Having no will in place, the estate of Martin Luther King, Jr. has been the subject of many lawsuits. King’s children did form a corporation to control his assets, but they ended up fighting over the shares in the corporation.

4. Jimi Hendrix

Hendrix died in 1970, and left his family with decades’ worth of arguments over his estate. As recently as 2009, his siblings went to court over his iconic image.

5. Bob Marley

Much like many of the other celebrities discussed before, Marley died without a will and left his family fighting over many parts of his estate. His widow even forged documents regarding his corporate holdings!

6. Howard Hughes

Hughes died in 1976 as one of the richest men in the world, but no estate plan. After his death, most of his wealth went to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute and 200 of his distant relatives received substantial payouts.

7. Billie Holiday

An American jazz musician and singer-songwriter, Holliday died with no will. As a result, her estranged husband inherited her entire estate, including her royalties.

8. John Denver

When Denver died without a will, his first ex-wife was named administrator of his estate and divided his assets equally between his three children.

9. Sonny Bono

When Bono died without a will in 1998, a man came forward claiming to be his illegitimate son. When the DNA testing came back negative, his estate was divided between his widow and four children.

10. Pablo Picasso

Picasso did not leave a will, which resulted in a court conflict between his heirs, including wives, mistresses, and legitimate and illegitimate children. His son, Claude Picasso, is the current lead administrator of his estate.

No matter how much you may have admired any of the people listed above, don’t make the same mistake they made in regards to ignoring the need for an estate plan. Famous or not, everyone should have an estate plan. It’s not that complicated, and it saves your loved ones a lot of money, time, and stress. As illustrated above, you’re never too young, smart, or powerful to not make plans if you become incapacitated or, as we all do, pass on.