Famous People – with and without a will

Nobody likes asking tough questions such as, “What will happen after we die?” and “Where do we want our things to go?”

In today’s connected society, one way to start the conversation is by using the stories and examples of celebrities who have passed away.

We all look up to famous people around us, but the fact is that behind the screens and glamour, they are just as human as we are, and they have to make the same decisions when it comes to estate planning and wills.

Like us, they struggle with financial issues, especially regarding estate planning and their wills. Let’s look at the most prolonged and complicated disputes over estates and wills, or lack of for some famous people, and learn to avoid the mistakes some made.

Jim Morrison

While no will is terrible, an overly simplistic will isn’t much better. Jim Morrison died when he was just 27 and left a 2-page document. Even though his assets were modest, he owned a 25% interest in his rock group, The Doors.

Since he was unmarried, he left his entire estate to Pamela Courson, his girlfriend, if she were alive. His estate would be divided equally between his sister and brother if she wasn’t. Since he was distant from his parents, he didn’t mention them in the will.

His girlfriend inherited his estate, but she died intestate three years later. All of her estates got taken over by her parents. Morrison’s parents made a claim against their son’s estate, who argued that the will made by Morrison was incompetent, and the common-law marriage between Morrison and Courson was illegitimate.

However, a probate court ruled that even if the will was incompetent, Courson was the spouse of Morrison by common law and thus his heir. Morrison’s parents and Courson’s parents settled the matter and decided to divide everything equally.

By that point, the band had achieved greater fame, and so had Morrison. His estate was worth millions. What could Morrison have done to avoid the fiasco with his estate? If he had left his funds in a trust for Courson instead of simply willing it to her, then his assets would have passed onto his siblings in case of her death. Since he didn’t include a testamentary trust in the will, his siblings didn’t get to benefit from his estate.

Frank Sinatra

We’ve all heard of Frank Sinatra, the late crooner of the significant band era. His will is interesting because he made a very clever inclusion in his will.

Since he had married four times and had a large estate worth over $100 million, he knew there would be disputes over his estate. He added a provision that if anyone contested his will, they’d inherit nothing. Clever, right?

Robin Williams

The death of actor and comedian Robin Williams will resulted in a legal dispute between his three children and his wife. He had left all of his $100 million estates to his children with the addition that his wife would get to live in the house in Tiburon, and the children would inherit it after her death.

Even though his will was very clear about his wishes, his family members disputed how the estate should pass. His will was particular regarding his money and his house but vague regarding things in the home he shared with his wife.

A bitter and expensive legal battle followed this dispute over the division of his estate. His clothes, graphic novels, photographs, and other memorabilia caused significant disputes between each child and his wife.

Williams’s widow maintained that the things in the house, such as all his items, should not be included in the list of items to be given to the children. There was a settlement out of court in 2015.

This shows that you need to be very clear and specific about the terms of your will because there are bound to be disputes over one thing or another.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. played a pivotal role in helping African Americans to obtain full rights and liberty. Since he was a civil rights activist, he frequently received death threats.

What is disturbing is that even though he was assassinated a long time ago, in 1968, his family is still fighting a legal battle regarding controlling his estate. King’s children battled over keeping his personal travelling Bible and Nobel Peace Prize Medal in 2014. Moreover, they were at odds regarding how the organisation that oversaw the estate should function.

It would have been much easier to prevent this if Dr King had created a will during his life.

Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix was a legendary musician and a great guitarist. He died on Sept 18, 1970, but left no instructions on how his estate would be divided and passed intestate.

The battle over Jimi Hendrix’s estate raged for over 30 years. There would have been no need for legal action if Hendrix had made a will in his life.


Prince died without a Will, and his estate remains unsettled, with none of his family able to receive a penny. Sadly, his estate has already and still is benefitting others.

Prince’s estate, estimated at US$160 – $300 million, remains in the hands of state-appointed lawyers and executors who have already collected over US$5 million in fees and expenses!

Even the rich and famous can make mistakes, so you should always seek good solid advice to ensure that your wishes (will and/or trust) are written correctly for your loved ones.

If you have any questions, please contact us at www.careysuen.com.