Jim Morrison, the lead singer of the popular rock band The Doors, died in 1971 at age 27. Before his death he had signed a simple, one-page will that left everything to his girlfriend, Pamela Courson (or if she died before he did, to his brother and sister).
As a result of the will, Pamela inherited his entire estate. Pamela herself died shortly afterward of a heroin overdose. Because Pamela didn’t have a will, most of Morrison’s fortune then went by law to Pamela’s closest living relatives – her parents.
Now, Pamela’s father was a former Navy officer and a high school principal in conservative Orange County, California. He probably never imagined that he would spend decades collecting millions of dollars in rock-and-roll royalties, or that he would have artistic control over a counterculture legend’s poetry and a major say in how Morrison was portrayed in movies such as The Doors.
It’s probably safe to assume that Morrison didn’t anticipate this either, and it probably wasn’t exactly what he had in mind.
Morrison could easily have avoided this fate by setting up a trust that would have cared for Pamela, but that would have directed his fortune to his own family if something happened to her, and put someone he knew and trusted in charge of his artistic legacy.
How is all this relevant to today’s seniors who aren’t rock stars?
The truth is, many seniors sign simple or “form” wills, sometimes out of a book or from the Internet, and they make a similar and tragic mistake.
- Alan signed a “form” will leaving his estate to his second wife. His second wife inherited his estate, and when she died, the assets went to her blood relatives. As a result, Alan’s own children from his first marriage received nothing.
- Beth signed a “form” will leaving her estate to her son, who had children from his first marriage. But when her son died, all of Beth’s assets went to the son’s second wife – and not her own grandchildren.
This is why it’s essential to talk to an attorney about your wishes. A good estate plan considers all the “what-if’s,” and will make sure you accomplish your objectives, even if something you didn’t anticipate happens along the way.