Pablo Picasso in his Paris studio. Bateman/Getty Images
A Michigan jury ruled in July that a document written by Aretha Franklin before she died was a valid will.
She is among a number of celebrities who died without a will, including Billie Holiday and Kurt Cobain.
Without a will, celebrity estates often become embroiled in lawsuits that can take years to resolve.
In 1984, a lawyer named William D. Zabel, who had drafted wills for 20 years, wrote in The New York Times that people sometimes refuse to write wills because they want to know about death, property Are not ready to “sort out their true feelings”. , and family.
He wrote, “Refusing to make a will – or to sign it once it is made – is often one of the ways a person refuses to face the fear of their own death.”
In the US, a will is not required to be drafted or typed by an attorney, but these factors can help the will stand up in court. A person can generally make a valid will if their intentions are in writing, they clearly want the document to be a will, and they are believed to have mental capacity at the time of writing. Technical requirements vary from state to state, but often also require two witnesses who must sign the will.
In a study performed between 2014 and 2016, The Conversation found that estate disputes where a will was not executed typically cost attorneys fees of about $17,000. When it comes to celebrity estates the cost of failing to execute a will can be very high.
Here are 12 instances where famous people died without a will and what happened after.
Billie Holiday recorded her final album, “Lady in Satin”, at the Columbia Records studio. Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
In 1959, jazz singer Billie Holiday died without leaving a will. She was 44 years old. At the time, she had almost no money in her bank accounts, but reportedly had about $750 tied to her leg.
Her assets, which included royalties, image and publishing rights, eventually passed to her estranged third husband, Louis Mackay, who abused her. In 1981, when Mackay died, Holliday’s estate passed to Mackay’s widow, who later sold it to a publishing company.
“It’s not right that someone who was as awesome as Louis Mackey to Billie Holiday would have control over her likeness and her money,” said Daniel Smith, author of the book, “Shine Bright: A Personal History of Black Women in pop”,’” told Billboard.
Smith said, “And it’s insane, finally, to have control of her money and likeness in the hands of people who didn’t know her or have any relationship with her.”
Source: Board, npr
Jimi Hendrix.Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images
In 1970, legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix died without leaving a will. He was 27 years old. His wealth was reportedly worth $80 million. It became mired in a legal battle after Hendrix’s father died in 2002 and Jimi’s half-sister, Jenny, was given control of the estate in his will.
Hendrix’s brother Leon challenged the will. Two years later, a Seattle court rejected his challenge.
Since then, there have been several lawsuits over Hendrix and the rights to use his name.
Source: city and country, USA Today, cnbc, nypost
Pablo Picasso with one of his works in Vallauris, France. Bateman/Getty Images
In 1973 the artist Pablo Picasso died without a will. He was 91 years old.
Picasso’s lawyer Armand Enteby told the media, “There is no will.” “He never did it because of superstition. A way to escape death, one might say.”
Picasso left 45,000 works of art, including 1,885 paintings and 1,228 sculptures.
In 1980, his wealth was estimated at $250 million. It took six years and cost $30 million to divide his estate among seven heirs.
Source: new York Times, Vanity Fair
Howard Hughes answers questions before Congress, Washington, DC, August 1947. Alan Band/Keystone/Getty Images
On April 5, 1976, eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes died without a will. Around 600 people tried to claim some of their fortune, with 40 fake wills being put forward before they were dismissed as fakes.
After years of legal battles, the US government took $169 million of his assets, which totaled about $500 million. The remainder—which was $1.5 billion at the time of the split—went to 1,000 people over 30 years.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. is giving his last speech. Getty Images
In 1968, civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr. died without a will. Unlike many others on this list, he did not have great wealth. He gave away the royalties of most of his books, along with the $50,000 he received for winning the Nobel Peace Prize.
The estate came to be controlled by King’s children, Bernice, Dexter, and Martin Luther King III. In 2014, the estate floundered when Dexter and Martin voted to sell the Bible they had taken with them in the 1960s, as well as their Nobel Peace Prize medals.
Bernice, who had the items, voted against it and refused to return them.
In 2016, a judge ordered the items to be released to the estate, allowing the sale.
Source: new York Times, reuters, Guardian
Bob Marley.Mike Pryor/Getty Images
In 1981, singer Bob Marley died without a will. He was 36 years old. His estate was reportedly worth $30 million. After being diagnosed with cancer in 1977, Marley knew he was going to die and decided not to write a will.
The last thing he said to his son was, “Money can’t buy life.”
Under Jamaican law, a person’s property is divided equally between his/her spouse and children. Marley had 11 children and was sued by his wife, Rita, for more than the 10% allotted under the law.
Rita later admitted to forging signatures and backdating documents to transfer $9 million of assets into her name, claiming she was told to do so by her lawyers. In 1992, a federal jury found she was not responsible, but found the attorney and accountant guilty of fraud.
In 1987, Louis Biles, managing director of the Mutual Securities Merchants Bank & Trust Company Limited, wrote a report about the property.
,[It] Biles wrote, “It is perhaps the most complex and difficult estate ever to be administered in Jamaica, if not in the whole of the Western Hemisphere.”
Source: USA Today, new yorker, cnbc, is i, Los Angeles Times, Deseret News, Standard
Kurt Cobain.Frank Michelotta Archive/Getty Images
In 1994, Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain died without a valid will. He was 27 years old. His wealth was later estimated to be worth $450 million. The state of Washington found that several draft wills were invalid.
Cobain’s wife, Courtney Love, was named the primary heir to the estate, while a trust was established for his daughter, Frances Bean. Money earned by Cobain’s company, End of Music, was split between the two, largely in a 60–40 ratio.
Source: USA Today, cnbc, Vanity Fair
Tupac Shakur photographed in New York City in 1993. Wallik Goshorn/MediaPunch/IPX
In 1996, rapper Tupac Shakur died without a will. He was 25 years old. His estate was reportedly worth $40 million. His estate eventually passed to his mother, Afeni Shakur-Davis.
After Afeni’s death, record label manager Tom Whaley took over as executor of the estate.
In 2022, Tupac’s sister, Sekiwa, sued Whaley, claiming he had unjustly enriched himself by taking $5.5 million from the estate.
Source: cnbc, Board, Rolling stone
Swedish author and journalist Stieg Larsson poses for a photo in Paris, France. Sophie Bassols/Sigma/Sigma/Getty Images
In 2004, Swedish novelist Stieg Larsson, author of “The Girl with a Dragon Tattoo,” died without a will. He was 50 years old. In the years immediately following his death, his trilogy of books grew rapidly, selling millions of copies.
Larsson had a 32-year-old partner named Eva Gabrielsson, but the property went to her father and brother, Erland and Joakim Larsson, instead of going to her. This is because non-marital relationships are not recognized in Swedish law.
Larsen had made many enemies through his journalism, which was often aimed at fighting right-wing extremists and fascism. The pair had agreed not to marry to ensure that Gabrielsson would not be targeted by Larsson’s enemies.
Following the success of Larsson’s novels, Gabrielsson and Larsson had a heated public dispute over property. Larson offered to settle for approximately $2.6 million through a newspaper article, but she declined. She wanted to be his literary executor.
Source: History, Guardian, Los Angeles Times, ABC News
Amy Winehouse’s family will mark the 10th anniversary of her death by auctioning off her clothes. Roger Kisby/Getty Images
In 2011, singer Amy Winehouse died without a will. She was 27 years old.
The court eventually awarded her property—worth approximately $4.6 million after she paid off her debts—to her parents. Her ex-husband Blake Fielder-Civil got nothing, although he later received about $320,000 in the settlement.
In 2019, Fielder also claimed approximately $1.4 million from the estate. It is not clear whether this was successful or not.
Source: USA Today, London Evening Standard
Prince performed on stage during the 1984 Purple Rain Tour. Ross Marino/Getty Images
In 2016, musician Prince died without a will. He was 57 years old. His estate was valued at an estimated $300 million.
The New York Times reported that he preferred to act on his own rather than rely on others, and this may have contributed to his failure to execute the will.
After Prince’s death, several people claimed the estate, including his children and those claiming to have a wife whom no one knew about. These claims were rejected.
Without a will, spouse or children, it took a six-year legal battle to decide how his estate would be administered.
Source: new York Times, Conversation, USA Today, cnbc
Aretha Franklin. Dimitrios Kamboris/Getty Images
In 2018, Aretha Franklin, the iconic singer-songwriter dubbed the “Queen of Soul,” apparently died without a valid will. She was 76 years old. His estate was valued at $18 million.
Instead of a proper will, three handwritten documents were found in his house. One will was found under a sofa, while the other was found locked.
Franklin’s sons argued over which will should be followed because they had different instructions regarding the distribution of the estate. In July 2023, a court found that the most recent will, which was found under a sofa at his home, must be followed.
Source: Conversation, new York Times, npr
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