5 celebs who botched their estate planning
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Celebrities’ estates are complex at the best of times, because many of them amass large fortunes that may be tied up in different investments and because there are often multiple children from multiple marriages and affairs. Sadly, many who have chaotic lives also leave their financial affairs in a state of chaos when they die. Here are five well-known celebrities who did just that.
1. Robin Williams
US comedian and actor Robin Williams apparently took great care in creating a trust to ensure his heirs were well cared for. But after his death from suicide in 2014, there was a well-publicised dispute between Williams’s three children and his widow, Susan Schneider-Williams. It involved Susan’s right to live on in one of the couple’s mansions and which items belonged to her and which belonged to the children ‒ the wording in the trust document was vague on these points.
2. Jimi Hendrix
Considered by many the greatest rock guitarist of all time, Jimi Hendrix died of a drug overdose at the age of 27 in 1970. He did not leave a will. For decades there were ongoing court battles among his siblings, his father Al Hendrix (who died in 2002) and the estate lawyer Leo Branton, who took control of the estate. Major disputes centred on ownership to the rights to Hendrix’s music and to his name and image for commercial purposes.
3. Heath Ledger
When popular Australian actor Heath Ledger died at age 28 in 2008, his will left everything to his parents and three sisters. But there was a problem: Ledger had drawn up his will before his daughter, Matilda, was born, leaving the then two-year-old and her mother, actress Michelle Williams, nothing. Ledger's family later gave all the money from the estate to Matilda. It was expected that Michelle Williams would lodge a claim, but she never did.
Rock singer Prince died in 2016 aged 58. Shortly afterwards it was discovered that he didn't have a will. The twice-divorced Prince was neither married nor known to have fathered any surviving children. A Minnesota judge was appointed to distribute Prince's assets, estimated to be worth more than $200 million, among Prince's six siblings and half-siblings. Within three weeks of his death, 700 people claimed to be half-siblings or descendants. As of April 2019, no additional estate claimants were recognised by the courts besides Prince's full sister and five half-siblings. However, his estate remained unsettled.
5. Aretha Franklin
The Queen of Soul succumbed to pancreatic cancer at the age of 76 on August 16, 2018, without a will filed with any of her attorneys. As a result, her $17 million estate was expected to be split evenly among her four sons, and they agreed to install their cousin, Franklin’s niece and confidante Sabrina Owens, as the estate’s executor. Then, in May 2019, two handwritten documents were found in her home that outlined how Franklin wanted her estate divided up and who she wanted to manage it. The result? Huge confusion, which has led to court battles among family members, which continue to this day.
*This article appears in the September 2021 issue of our information-packed IOL MONEY monthly digital magazine, which focuses on wills and estates.