Legendary Stars : The Cost Of Dying Intestate

Stars dying without Wills is becoming all too common, but why, despite their fortune, are they putting their finances on the backburner, particularly if musicians’ estates can continue to accrue substantial revenue long after their death.

While UK Wills experts continually stress the importance of having a Will in place to protect loved ones, clearly, for whatever reason, preparing a Will has not been top of some legendary stars’ list. 

The latest star to die intestate is the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, who passed away this year at the age of 76, after suffering from pancreatic cancer.

Franklin’s four sons, Clarence, Edward, Ted and Kecalf filed a document back in the summer in Michigan’s Oakland’s County Probate Court listing themselves as potential beneficiaries of her estate, while her niece, Sabrina Owens asked the court to appoint her as personal representative of the estate.

Aretha’s estate is purported to be worth around $80m (£62m) and luckily there appears to be no family dispute.

Legendary American singer, Prince, also died without a Will at the age of 57 from an accidental fentanyl overdose according to his autopsy report.

The singer who died in 2016 suddenly had numerous people emerging claiming to be his previously unknown wife, child, sibling or distant relative. Following many months of legal battles, the Minnesota probate judge who was looking after the late Prince’s estate confirmed that his sister, Tyka Nelson and five half-siblings will inherit his fortune believed to be worth around $200 million.

Soulful Brit, Amy Winehouse, died in 2011 at the tender age of 27 from alcohol poisoning. Originally thought to have a Will, it later emerged she did not have one. According to press, Winehouse’s estate totaled $4.66 million after debts and taxes. Amy’s parents inherited the entire fortune with her Dad, Mitch Winehouse, acting as the administrator of the estate. Although, it was revealed in a documentary about the singer that she had an acrimonious relationship with her Dad which he denied.

Bob Marley died of cancer in 1981 at the age of 36 with no Will in place. Following Marley’s death, the heirs were still battling the singer’s estate in court 30 years later. Under Jamaican Law, his estate was to be divided between his wife and 11 children, but this meant his wife, Rita only received 10% of his assets.

Jimi Hendrix’s estate was also fought over for 30 years after he died in 1970, at the age of 27, without a Will. The famous guitarist’s siblings were still feuding over the fortune from 2002, when their father, Al Hendrix died and left Jimi’s sister Janie in control of the musician’s $80 million estate.

Sonny Bono‘s death was a shock as the entertainer turned congressman tragically died in a skiing accident in 1998 at the age of 62. His wife, Mary Bono, filed papers through probate court so she could become the personal representative of her husband’s estate. Apparently, a love child reappeared on the scene but later withdraw the claim. In the end, Bono’s estate was divided between Mary Bono and his two children.

Kurt Cobain died at 27 leaving behind a fortune which was estimated to be millions after his death in 1994. His wife, Courtney Love, was the primary beneficiary of the publishing rights to his estate. Kurt and Courtney’s then 18 year old daughter, Frances Bean, took control of her trust fund which was more than a third of the estate.

In half of these cases, where the stars have died intestate, family disputes ensued (that even went on for decades). Those that didn’t and remained a seemingly peaceful settlement could have easily turned ugly.

According to Kings Court Trust 2018 UK findings they have seen several family disputes increase year on year. The report shows one in twenty adults have a dispute about a Will. A dispute is more likely to arise if no Will has been left which once again emphasises the importance of creating a Will. The increase in inheritance disputes could be the result of changing family structures as more people remarry and become part of what is known as blended families.

It was also reported in the Kings Court Trust findings that the interviewees suggested that a greater level of transparency was needed to reduce the likelihood of disputes. However, the survey findings revealed that nearly one in five adults that have a Will say that the likely beneficiaries of their estates are not aware of being included in their Will.

Furthermore, the Kings Court Trust report revealed specific life events, namely having children, do not seem to encourage people to write a Will – with only 26% of adults who have children aged four years and under reporting that they have a Will.

Either way, there seems to be some way to go in providing people with the right information to encourage a greater take up of Will writing – with still under half (45%) of the adult population in Great Britain making a Will.

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