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3 Celebrity Probate Disasters and Tragic Lessons

Written by: Carmen Sheppard

Posted on: January 5, 2017

celebrity probate disasters

Content provided by WealthCounsel; reviewed and edited by Beth Ann R. Lawson, Esq.

Most of us would assume that individuals of extreme wealth would take steps to protect their estates and the people they love. Yet some of the world’s richest and most famous people pass away with no estate plan in place. Others made estate planning mistakes which tied up their fortunes and heirs for years in court. Three high-profile celebrity probate disasters offer lessons from which we can all learn regardless of the size of our individual estates.

Tom Carvel, The Ice Cream Man

As the man who invented soft-serve ice cream and established the first franchise business in America, Tom Carvel had a net worth of up to $200 million when he died in 1990.

  • He did have a will and accompanying trust that provided for his widow, family members and donations for several charities, but he also named seven executors, all of whom had a financial stake in the game.
  • The executors began a round of infighting that lasted for more than 7 years and cost millions. In the end, Carvel’s widow passed away before the disputes could be settled and before she inherited.

Lesson learned: “Too many cooks spoil the broth.” Your trustee and executor may have to make tough decisions. Consider naming executors and trustees who have no financial interest in your estate to reduce the risk of favoritism. Consider having only a single trustee and executor rather than a committee, and naming successors in case your named individual cannot act.

Jimi Hendrix, Guitarist

Passing away tragically at age 27, rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix left no will.

  • What he did leave behind was a long line of relatives, music industry bigwigs, and business associates who had an interest in what would become of his estate – including intellectual property that would continue to earn.
  • An attorney managed the estate for the first two decades after Jimi’s death, after which Jimi’s father Al Hendrix successfully sued for control of the estate.
  • But when Al attempted to leave the entire estate to his adopted daughter upon his passing, Jimi’s brother, Leon Hendrix, sued, launching a messy probate battle that left no clear winners.

Lesson learned: When you don’t leave a comprehensive estate plan, the conflict can last for generations. Even if you’re not a celebrity, we can put your wishes in writing so they are carried out after your death rather than opening a door to costly conflict.

Prince, Musical Genius

The court battle waging over Prince’s estate is a probate disaster.

  • When the 80’s pop icon died in early 2016, he left no estate plan (reportedly due to some previous legal battles that left him with a distrust of legal professionals in general).
  • The lines are already being drawn for what will likely be a costly and lengthy court battle among Prince’s heirs.
  • Sadly, there’s even a battle looming about determining, for certain, who his heirs actually are.

Lesson learned: Accurate and up-to-date legal documentation protects your legacy for those people that you wished to protect. Don’t let a “rumor” of a bad experience stop you from acting.  Don’t leave your heirs to fight and potentially lose their inheritance.

Celebrity probate disasters serve as stark reminders that no one’s wealth is exempt from the legal trouble which can occur without estate planning designed specifically to meet your family’s unique needs and gifts. We are here to help you. Call us today at (757) 689-8668 to discuss protecting your assets for your loved ones and don’t forgot Fido and Cleo, the family pets!

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