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Top Ten Famous People Without Wills

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In the wake of the tragic death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman at age 46 from a heroin overdose, it has been revealed that he had prepared a will and trust. Scripted in 2004 the will and trust  gave the majority of his estate to the mother of his children and longtime girlfriend, Mimi O’Donnell. His son, Cooper, will benefit from Hoffman’s trust, obtaining funds at age 21 and the rest at age 30. Hoffman also had two small daughters, ages seven and five. With this discovery, Hoffman will not join the list of top ten famous people without wills.

It’s estimated that today about 71 percent of American adults under the age of 34 do not have a will. For older adults, even seniors, it is estimated that 40 percent do not have wills. Even celebrities, who presumably have access to money, assets, and Ivy League attorneys, do not always have a will.

Research has indicated that the major reason most Americans do not have wills is that they think it is too expensive and they do not think they have very much in the way assets to protect and give away. Highly paid luminaries cannot make that excuse.

The fact is that even with small estates, relatives and friends will dispute how a deceased person’s assets are dealt with and distributed. No will can sometimes mean a free for all. A will, for example, is the only way one can name a guardian for a minor child. A trust is the only way to avoid probate, particularly if one owns real estate. The cost of creating an estate plan is not as high as people think. At the same time, there are a lot of self-help will guides online. Thus, there is no real excuse for joining the list of top ten famous people without wills.

Without some form of roadmap for what happens after one passes away, what the deceased thinks will happen after they die may be very different to what actually happens.

In the Hoffman example, he indicated in his will that he wants his son Cooper to be raised in New York. Without that will, those specific wishes might never be officially recognized and followed.

History has been replete with examples of famous people who have passed away without a will.

Some of the names are surprising as they seemingly had the wherewithal to get that task done. Complicating matters further is that many celebrities create intellectual property such as paintings, music, scripts, books, etc., which generate income long after their demise. Who that income goes to is often a dispute with no will. With no will they join the ranks of top ten famous people without wills

Here are some top well known personages who passed away without wills.

Stieg Larsson. This was the Swedish author who wrote enormously successful The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy. With no will, his estate was to be divided up between his father and brother, according to Swedish law. Yet he lived with a woman he never married for 32 years. There is still sparring going on between Larsson’s family and his former partner.

Pablo Picasso. The famous artist was 91 when he died in 1973. He had a treasure trove in artwork, real estate, gold and cash. The battle over his estate lasted six years and cost $30 million, according to estimates.

Jimi Hendrix. The rock era icon died in 1970. The battle for his estate lasted for 30 years since he left no will.

Sonny Bono. This one half of the iconic duo of Sonny and Cher died in an unlikely ski accident in 1998. With no will, his current wife Mary Bono dueled with ex-wife Cher about his estate.

Bob Marley. This legendary reggae star died in 1981. With no will and an estate worth more than $30 million, the litigation was on.

Howard Hughes. This well known billionaire died in 1976 at the age of 70. A will did surface, but later proved to be a forgery. His estate was eventually divided among 22 cousins.

Steve McNair. This 36-year old football star was killed by his alleged girlfriend who in turn committed suicide. There was no will concerning his estate.

Abraham Lincoln. The 16th president of the United States was ironically also an attorney. Yet he was the first president to die without a will when he was assassinated in 1865.

Michael Jackson. Apparently the king of pop, who had children, had a will but his mother filed a probate alleging he did not have a will. The Jackson estate continues to earn fabulous amounts to money.

Amy Winehouse. This highly acclaimed but troubled pop singer died in 2012 at age 27 from an accidental alcohol overdose. Reportedly she has close to $7 million in assets.

Celebrity or not, assets or not, children or not, creating an estate plan is something to think about. Otherwise even average people will join the list of top ten famous people without wills.

By Jim McCullaugh


Los Angeles Times
USA Today
The Telegraph