There are many lessons to be learned about estate planning from the bad experiences of some of the world’s most famous people. The AARP recently gathered their stories, and here are the highlights:
Florence Griffith Joyner: Before her death in 1998, Olympic gold medalist Florence Griffith Joyner never told anyone the location of her will. Without the original document, it took four years to close her probate estate due to a long battle among her relatives.
Lesson learned: Don’t keep the location of your will a secret.
Prince: When Prince died in 2016 he left no will. Now a Minnesota judge will oversee the distribution of the singer’s estimated $300 million estate among six siblings. However, other potential heirs have surfaced, including a federal inmate claiming to be Prince’s son. If there is proof he is in fact Prince’s son, then he may inherit the estate under the intestacy statute.
Lesson learned: Have a will.
Whitney Houston: Songstress Whitney Houston had a will when she drowned in 2012, but it was drawn up a month before the 1993 birth of her only child and never revised. Per the terms of the outdated will, Houston’s daughter Bobbi Kristina (who was 18 when her mother died) was to receive 10 percent of the estate — $2 million — when she turned 21 and the rest later. But Houston failed to consider whether her daughter was mature enough to handle millions of dollars. Ultimately Bobbi Kristina got the $2 million but not the rest of her inheritance. She died in 2015, also as a result of drowning and drug intoxication.
Lesson learned: Review and update your will regularly.
James Gandolfini: ‘Sopranos’ actor James Gandolfini was reportedly worth $70 million when he died in 2013 of a heart attack in Rome. His will provided for his widow, daughter and two sisters, but did not factor in proper tax planning as it was drawn up hastily before a vacation. As a result, the estate ended up paying federal and state estate taxes at a hefty rate of 40 percent.
Lesson learned: Be sure to consider the impact of estate taxes on your plans.
Marlon Brando: Actor Marlon Brando had a written estate plan for his $100 million fortune when he died in 2004, but it did not include promises he allegedly made orally to his long-term housekeeper, Angela Borlaza. She claimed Brando gave her his house as a gift, but the actor never completed the paperwork to transfer the deed to give her legal ownership. In court, she sought $627,000 — the market value of the house — plus $2 million in punitive damages. The case settled for $125,000.
Lesson learned: Avoid oral promises.