A surprising number of famous people have died without any form of will or trust to direct distribution of their estate. This has often led to conflicts over the right to control the estate assets, including intellectual property, public image, and other money-producing assets.
For example, Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t have a will when he was assassinated. His estate, which is run now through a corporation established by his children, often struggles to determine what King’s wishes would be. Decades after the civil rights leader’s death, his children are still trying to sort out matters related to his estate.
Reggae singer Bob Marley left no will when he died in 1981. Over the past 30 years, the estate has been involved in multiple lawsuits. Handling Marley’s estate was complicated by the fact that, although Marley died in Florida, he maintained his Jamaican citizenship. Since Jamaica’s laws of intestacy were not as generous as Florida’s, his advisors decided to prepare an estate plan after his death that Marley’s widow then signed.
The Jamaican court sorted out the issue of the falsified will and removed Marley’s widow as administrator of the estate. The court then had to resolve the issue of who had the right to use the singer’s name, likeness and image in commerce. About 10 years after Marley’s death, the Jamaican Supreme Court decided that Marley’s heirs possessed this exclusive right. The heirs include the widow and Marley’s children. Unfortunately, the list of heirs does not incude siblings. The estate is now suing Marley’s half-brother for using his image to promote a Miami music festival and restaurant, as he has done for many years.
Swedish author Steig Larsson, known for his Millennium series that includes The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, also died without a will. His estate passed to his heirs (brother and father with whom Larsson was not close) rather than his long-time partner, Eva Gabrielsson. Gabrielsson refused to release to the estate the partial fourth volume in the book series, fought for her share of the apartment they shared, and for control over Larsson’s literary estate, which she feels better prepared to administer than Larsson’s family. In the end, the family gained control of the literary estate.
Although your estate may not be large, and you may not be famous, proper estate planning can help pass your estate to the next generation without the conflicts that occur when money and sentiment are involved.