Three Celebrities' Probate Disasters and Tragic Lessons

Red carpet for celebrity

One would assume that celebrities with extreme wealth would take steps to protect their estates. But think again: some of the world’s richest and most famous people enter the pearly gates with no estate plan, while others have made estate planning mistakes that tied up their fortunes and heirs in court for years. Let us look at three high-profile celebrities' probate disasters and discover what lessons we can learn from them.

Dying Without a Will1. Prince

The court battle over musician Prince’s estate was a probate disaster.

  • When the ‘80s pop icon died in early 2016, he left no estate plan (reportedly due to some previous legal battles that left him with a distrust of legal professionals).
  • The probate court had the task of determining Prince’s heirs among all of the people who stepped forward claiming an interest in Prince’s money and property. In 2017, the court ruled that his five half-siblings and his sister were to inherit from Prince.
  • The court battle among Prince’s potential heirs cost millions of dollars, and all matters involving Prince’s money and property took about six years to resolve.

Lesson learned: Accurate legal documentation protects your legacy. Do not let a general distrust or a bad experience propagate through generations, leaving your loved ones to fight or lose their inheritance.

2. Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston’s failure to update her estate plan ended up leaving her daughter with more than she probably intended.

  • Whitney Houston executed a will in 1993 and died in 2015 without making any updates to the distribution instructions in her will.
  • Her will left everything to her nineteen-year-old daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown.
  • According to the will, one-tenth was to be given to Bobbi at age twenty-one (about $2 million), another one-sixth at age twenty-five, and the remainder at age thirty.
  • Unfortunately, Bobbi died in 2015 at the age of twenty-two, of drowning.
  • Many people have speculated that Bobbi was not mature enough to have received $2 million when she turned twenty-one.

Lesson learned: Naming your child in your estate plan is not enough. You must periodically review the documents and assess whether your original plan to leave your money and property is still in the best interest of your child.

3. Michael Crichton

Dinosaur statue. Dinosaur statue close up. World of dinosaurs.

  • Michael Crichton, author of Jurassic Park, had a will prepared and died leaving behind a daughter from a previous marriage and his surviving wife. His surviving wife had signed a prenuptial agreement and was not considered an heir when he died. She was, however, pregnant with his son.
  • He did not update his will to provide for his soon-to-be-born son.
  • A court battle was fought between his daughter and his wife, on behalf of her son, to determine what share he was to receive. Was he to split the inheritance fifty-fifty with his half-sister, or a smaller amount as a pretermitted (omitted) heir?
  • His son ultimately inherited from his father, but the cost of the litigation reduced the inheritance, the process took a considerable amount of time, and the conflict most likely damaged familial relationships.

Lesson learned: There are four major events that should trigger a review of your estate plan: a birth, death, divorce, or move. These milestones could have a lasting impact on your estate plan. When they occur, review your plan and contact an experienced estate planning attorney to make the necessary changes.

These celebrities' probate disasters serve as stark reminders that no one’s wealth is exempt from the legal trouble that can occur without proper estate planning. As always, we are here to help you protect your loved ones and legacy. Give us a call today to discuss protecting your hard-earned money and property and your loved ones.

Categories: Estate Planning, Wills