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Six Celebrities Who Made Estate Planning Mistakes

Celebrities Who Made Estate Planning Mistakes blog image

Successful celebrities earn more money than most of us could ever dream of, and they can afford to hire the very best advisers. However, having the best resources doesn’t always guarantee they’ll follow the right advice.

Indeed, many celebrities who made estate planning mistakes have faced heartbreaking consequences for their families. As we review three examples, remember that you have the opportunity to learn from their errors and ensure a smoother transition for your own estate.

Celebrities Who Made Estate Planning Mistakes

It began when the two partners declared their intent to leave, citing personal reasons, but with a caveat—they demanded a larger slice of the buyout pie, alleging that the third had not pulled equal weight in sustaining the business.

Conversely, the third partner asserted their unwavering commitment and accused the other two of disloyalty and attempting to exit with unearned benefits. With accusations clouding the air and tension at its peak, the threat to the business’s continuity and reputation seemed inescapable. 

1. Prince

The legendary musician, Prince, passed away without a will, leading to a lengthy legal battle over his estate. His estate was estimated to be worth around $200 million, and without a will, it was subject to probate court and state law.

2. Heath Ledger

The actor, Heath Ledger, passed away in 2008 without updating his will to include his daughter, who was born after the will was created. This led to a legal battle between his family and the mother of his daughter over his $20 million estate.

3. James Gandolfini

The actor, James Gandolfini, passed away in 2013, leaving behind an estate valued at around $70 million. However, he failed to create a tax-efficient estate plan, resulting in his estate being subject to federal and state estate taxes, which amounted to over $30 million.

A picture of James Gandolfini, one of the six celebrities who made estate planning mistakes.
File photo dated 10/07/11 of James Gandolfini attending the BAFTA Brits to watch event held at the Belasco Theatre in Los Angeles, USA. Tributes have poured in for James Gandolfini, the American actor best known for his role as the mob boss in The Sopranos, who died in 2013 at the age of 51.

4. Whitney Houston

The late singer, Whitney Houston, passed away in 2012 without a will. Her estate was valued at around $20 million, and without a will, it was subject to probate court and state law.

5. Aretha Franklin

The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, passed away in 2018 without a will, despite having a sizable estate estimated to be worth around $80 million. Her estate was subject to probate court and state law, which led to legal battles among her family members over her assets.

6. Michael Jackson

Unlike many celebrities, Michael Jackson took many of the right steps to establish a solid estate plan. He had his attorney create a revocable living trust that would enable his assets to pass directly to his beneficiaries without being tied up in probate.  However, he failed to take the next critical step. He never formally transferred property into the trust.

Because of that, his property became part of his estate subject to the lengthy and expensive probate process. You can avoid that mistake by ensuring that you retitle real estate in the name of your trust and take other steps as advised to fund your trust.

These examples highlight the importance of creating a comprehensive estate plan, regardless of one’s wealth or celebrity status.

Work with McGinn Law, PC to avoid the mistakes of the rich and famous. We can’t guarantee that you will ever become rich or famous if you follow the advice of your estate planning attorney at the McGinn Law Firm. However, we can guarantee that we will work hard to help you keep as much of your wealth as possible during your lifetime and for the future of your loved ones.