Families fight. Celebrities are no different. If anything, it is always interesting to read how the ultra-wealthy handle their estate planning and what issues arise on their deaths (particularly as there is usually a string of ex-spouses and multiple children involved). In today’s blog, I discuss some of the legal battles that arose as a result of a celebrity’s poor estate planning.
Jimi was a legendary guitarist. Sadly, he died from a drug overdose in 1970, when he was only 27 years old. He did not have a will.
After Jimi’s death, Jimi’s father (Al) inherited Jimi’s estate on an intestacy. Jimi’s lawyer managed his estate for 20 years. Jimi’s father eventually took over the management of Jimi’s music. When Jimi’s father died in 2002, Jimi’s estimated $80 million fortune at the time was distributed pursuant to Al’s will. In his will, Al left the control of Jimi’s estate and its fortune to his adopted daughter (Jimi’s stepsister), and completely cut out his son, Leon (Jimi’s brother). Leon commenced litigation challenging Al’s will, claiming that he had a right to Jimi’s estate. Leon eventually lost. Litigation in Jimi’s estate has yet to end, as Jimi’s estate has since taken Leon to court for the illegal sale of merchandise.
Jimi is one of the world’s highest-earning posthumous celebrities, with an estate worth approximately $175 million.
John was murdered in 1980. In his will, John left the management of his estate (reported to be worth over $276 million) to his widow, Yoko Ono, and his accountant. The main beneficiaries of John’s estate were Ono and their son, Sean. John made no provision for his son from his first marriage, Julian. Whether or not cutting Julian out was intentional on John’s part, John’s estate was dragged through a 16-year legal battle with Julian. Julian’s claim eventually settled out of court for a rumored amount of $27 million.
Leona Helmsley (a.k.a. the “Queen of Mean”)
Leona was a New York City real estate developer and hotel magnate, with an estimated fortune of over $5 billion. Leona died in 2007. In her will, she left the majority of her estate to charity and left smaller gifts to various relatives. Leona specifically cut out two of her grandchildren, but left $12 million to her dog, Trouble. Trouble received many death threats after Leona’s death, to the point that Leona’s estate spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on security for Trouble. Eventually, in 2008, a Manhattan judge reduced Leona’s $12 million gift to Trouble to $2 million, and ordered that the remainder be given to charity. The two grandchildren left out of Leona’s will were also awarded a total of $6 million from Leona’s estate.
The above estate battles only serve as a lesson to ensure that one’s estate planning is up to date.