The Montana Estate Lawyer

Monday, June 16, 2014

We Can Learn From Celebrity Estate Planning Mistakes

Celebrities.  We see them on television.  We watch their movies.  We purchase and download their music.  We read about them in magazines.  They’re everywhere.  Most of us living normal, everyday lives, find it hard to relate to the seemingly perfect lives enjoyed by stars.  However, just like the rest of us, they can and often do get tripped up when it comes to estate planning—and we can all learn from their mistakes because they are of the same type that are made by all of us.

Trial & Heirs published a blog in a few years ago entitled “Top 10 Celebrity Estate Planning Mistakes” ( that is worth sharing.  Here they are:

1. Jimi Hendrix’s Critical Error:  Doing Nothing

If you do not plan your own estate while alive, you could end up like Jimi Hendrix and have someone that you barely knew controlling your legacy.  Hendrix’s legacy was fought over in court more than 30 years after he died.

2. Justice Warren Burger’s Critical Error:  Doing It Yourself

Former Supreme Court Justice Warren Burger created his own will with 176 words but he left out key provisions and his family paid the price.

3. Heath Ledger’s Critical Error:  Not Updating

Heath Ledger never updated his will with the birth of his daughter, leading to chaos and family members fighting through the press.

4. Princess Diana’s Critical Error: Taking Shortcuts

Princess Diana used a “letter of wishes” leaving personal items to her godchildren instead of specifying her wishes in a will or trust.

5. Florence Griffith-Joyner’s (Flo Jo) Critical Error:  Forgetting to Tell Loved Ones Where Estate Planning Documents are Located

Olympian Flo Jo’s original will couldn’t be located and her probate estate took over 4 years to close.

6. Michael Jackson’s Critical Error:  Failing to Finish What You Start

Michael Jackson created a trust, but never fully funded it, defeating a primary purpose of having a trust.  This led to public family fights in probate court.

7.  Marlon Brando’s Critical Error:  Making Verbal Promises

Marlon Brando’s housekeeper said Brando made oral promises of a home and continued employment, which led to two separate lawsuits after Brando’s death.

8. Sonny Bono’s Critical Error:  Procrastinating

Sonny Bono passed away at the age of 62 without a will in place.  This led to many complications, including a secret love child who surfaced and wanted part of Bono’s estate.

9. Whitney Houston’s Father’s Critical Error:  Leaving Your Intent Unclear

Whitney Houston’s father, John, named Whitney as a beneficiary on a large life insurance policy, but it was unclear if he wanted Whitney to keep the money or to turn over the money to her step-mother.  This confusion led to a two-year court battle, which is ongoing.

10.  Doris Duke’s Critical Error:  Choosing an Untrustworthy Executor or Trustee

Doris Duke chose an unsavory trustee – her butler – to manager her one billion dollar foundation.  When he used assets for himself, it led to an expensive fight in court that cost the charities Duke wanted to benefit.

We can all learn from these mistakes and avoiding making them ourselves.  The two big keys are to put a game plan in place and to update and maintain that plan.  In doing so, we can provide for and protect our loved ones while ensuring our wishes are carried out.  Let’s get started.


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