5 Celebrities You Can Learn From When It Comes To Estate Planning & Will Writing

July 2, 2021

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: having a written will in place is incredibly important for everyone. No matter how big or small your fortune is, without a will or an up-to-date estate plan, your successors can be left in quite a sour pickle.

Of course, we’re all human and it’s human nature to make mistakes. We can only hope any blunders you do make are trivial - not ones that could seriously affect your loved ones that you won't be able to fix from beyond the grave. 

With something as significant as your will, you’d expect mistakes to be pretty infrequent, and yet even the pillars of society with a whole team of advisors behind them have made some monster errors! We’re going to call attention to some of your fave celebs who just didn’t get it right when it came to drafting their will. Hopefully, it will nudge you to keep on top of yours while giving you an idea of what’s best to avoid. After all, isn’t your will the last thing you want to mess up?!

1. Prince

That’s right, the High Priest of Pop died without a will in a place – hard to believe for someone of such wealth!

The Purple One had such a large family – six siblings and half-siblings to be exact – that trying to determine who was eligible for what became quite a shambles. If the process wasn’t challenging enough, an inmate then came forward and claimed to be Prince’s child. As you can imagine, this only made things much more complicated and further delayed the proceedings.

As is the norm, Prince’s estate went to probate where it fell to a Minnesota judge to decide which heir was entitled to what. To this day, it’s reported that Prince’s family has only received a small fraction of their sibling's fortune. Due to the lack of estate planning, so many questions are still left unanswered even though the family continues to pay for attorney fees and other expenses – yikes!  

2. Aretha Franklin

Much like Prince, powerhouse Aretha Franklin also died without a will in place, making her $80 million estate tough to manage.

You’d think her fortune would be split evenly amongst her four sons however, her eldest has special needs and requires extra care. Without financial aid, Clarence Franklin struggles to get by. When she was alive, Aretha helped, but once she passed without an estate plan, things got complicated.

With no will in place, distributing Ms. Franklin’s fortune became a whole mess and once the case went to probate, what would have typically been a private family matter became extremely public. On top of the added attention, the taxes on Aretha’s estate have ended up much higher than they would have been had a valid will been in place.

Throughout the years since her death, numerous drafts of a will have come to light. One dated March 2014, which was found under sofa cushions, gave the greatest share to her youngest son and less to Clarence. This year, a possible fourth (unsigned) will was discovered dating back to 2018. This version suggests that a trust would be created to benefit her son Clarence with the remaining assets split between her other three sons. An August date has been set for a trial to determine if any of the documents – some of which are handwritten – can formally stand as a will.

3. Heath Ledger

We can’t stress enough that once you’ve made the step to write a will, it is imperative you keep it up to date!

When Heath Ledger sadly passed, he’d welcomed a daughter into the world three years prior but hadn’t updated his will since before her birth. This meant his only valid will did not reflect his current life circumstances and so his young child along with her mother was left with absolutely nothing!

The Dark Knight actor’s parents and sisters received his entire estate as they were named in the last will Ledger wrote. Ledger’s partner and daughter, Matilda could have made a family provision claim in order to inherit her father’s estate, but luckily, they avoided the distress as the beneficiaries decided to give everything left for them to his young daughter. Nonetheless, things could have turned out much differently!

4. Whitney Houston

The Prom Queen of Soul left her entire estate to her daughter Bobbi Kristina. The will stipulated that Bobbi would receive the money in a series of installments – 10% at age 21, 30% at age 25, and the remaining 60% at age 30.

Bobbi tragically passed away aged 22, only having inherited 10% of her mother’s fortune. As she was unmarried and bore no children of her own, the remainder of her inheritance came into question. Many of Houston's supporters were disgusted that it could have gone to Bobbi's father, who has been blamed for Whitney’s drug habit, which ultimately led to her death.

Fortunately, Whitney’s will provided that the estate would go to her mother and two brothers if anything were to happen to Bobbi. Although her ex-husband was listed as a beneficiary in the will, his entitlement became nullified as he was referred to as ‘my husband’ which of course he no longer was. Assuming Bobbi did not have a will of her own, it’s likely that Bobbi’s father inherited the 10% his daughter had already received due to being her next-of-kin – but hey, at least he didn’t inherit the whole $20million, right?

If there’s a lesson to be learned here, it’s that you should be specific about the details of your will. If you wish for an heir to inherit your estate in separate payments, you should make it clear what happens to that division if the recipient dies sooner than expected.

5. Marlon Brando

The Oscar-winning actor left the bulk of his estate to his professional associates. His housekeeper then sued, alleging that Brando had promised she would inherit his home upon his death. While a promise is a promise, it’s easily broken if it’s not put down on paper.

Since the supposed promise was verbal and not stated anywhere in his estate plan, there was no proof that Brando had actually vowed to give his home to his housekeeper. The lawsuit that ensued made the Godfather actor's will all the more complex and drawn-out than anyone would have liked.

Remember, your will is the only valid thing that can delegate your assets after your death, so don’t make rhetorical promises that you cannot put into writing.

If these horror stories have made you question your own estate planning, you can start drafting your final wishes in your myFRP account. 

For extra security for your family, you can securely store and share your most important documents, such as your will, power of attorneys, guardians of minors, and safety deposit box information in the Key Documents section of your myFRP account. It’s just down to you to keep reviewing and updating them!

If you’re part of the 63% of people who are yet to draft a will, check out 8 Reasons Why You Need to Write A Will.

Emily Davies
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