Famous Celebrity Will Contests
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1. Martin Luther King left no Will, so his legacy included an ongoing legal battle
Martin Luther King Jr was born Michael King in January 1929, but his father changed his name to honour the German reformer, Martin Luther. King Jr became a Baptist Minister and went on to become the figurehead of the American civil rights movement, leading the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott and helping to raise awareness of the struggle of black Americans against segregation.
In 1963, Martin Luther King Jr delivered his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, propelling him to international fame. A year later he received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts in helping to combat racial inequality through non-violent means. He continued to rise in terms of his international prominence, helping to reduce and eliminate racial segregation both in the Untied States of America and abroad, with his efforts being recognised through a number of awards and medals.
On 29th March 1968, King was in Memphis, Tennessee, in order to meet with and support black public employees who’d been on strike for a fortnight seeking better wages and treatment. A few days later, he delivered his famous ‘I’ve Been to the Mountaintop’ speech regarding a bomb threat made against his plane, delaying his arrival in Memphis. Later that night, King booked into room 306 at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, a room which he had stayed in many times before.
Just after six o’clock on 4th April, a gunshot was heard as King was standing on the balcony of his motel room. Paramedics were called and King received emergency chest surgery, but was pronounced dead at 7.05pm at St. Joseph’s Hospital. An autopsy revealed that King ‘had the heart of a 60-year-old’, even though he was only thirty-nine. This was put down to the stresses and pressure of being at the forefront of the civil rights movement.
- King left no Will
Although King was aware that he was a target for many people around the world, he never made a Will, having procrastinated with his legal planning.
Upon his death, his family battled against each other over his estate, with his children unable to agree on how things should be split. A settlement was finally agreed, although the corporation formed to manage his estate has since thrown spanners in the works with regards to the presence of documents and momentos as well as the claims of various people as to whom was given the documents by King and when.
- 50 years of contesting his estate
Almost fifty years after Martin Luther King Jr’s death, the legal battle between his heirs over who owns the slain civil rights leader’s 1964 Nobel Peace Prize medal, was not fully resolved and the corporation until August 2016, 48 years after his death.
The unfortunate thing is that this could have all been avoided had King had the foresight to write a Will. Even more unfortunately, this can happen to absolutely anybody, which is why it is of the utmost importance that you ensure you have an up-to-date Will written and drafted professionally by a qualified Wills and probate lawyer.
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2. Jimi Hendrix left no Will and left decades of family disputes
Jimi Hendrix, often referred to as the greatest guitarist of all time, died in 1970 at the age of just 27. Of course, he never expected to die so young; no-one ever does. Although Jimi Hendrix only lived to the age of 27, more than 34 years later a court case was still churning on to decide who should receive the profits from his estate. And what’s more, with the passing of time his estate is now estimated to have a value approximately £140 million.
There have been a number of lawsuits surrounding Jimi Hendrix’s estate, from record company profits to royalty rights and legal battles over naming issues, but by 2004 his own family were still going through the courts to fight over who should receive the value of his estate. The real issue came about for one reason: Jimi Hendrix never wrote a Will.
Jimi’s father, Al, was put in charge of his estate in 1995 after an attorney had been running it since his death. When Al himself died in 2002, the estate was worth more than $80million, the bulk of which went to Al’s adopted daughter, Janie. As Janie was not a blood relative of Jimi Hendrix, Jimi’s brother, Leon, took umbrage at this and alleged that Janie had manipulated Al into leaving the estate to her.
In court, the judge decided that Janie hadn’t manipulated Al, but that Leon’s drug use and threats had convinced Al to change his Will. With Al trusting Janie more than Leon, the estate was largely passed to her. The real truth is that this is only the ruling of one judge — no-one knows and will ever know what Jimi Hendrix would have wanted to happen. If he had recorded this in a legal document, such as a Will, the whole unpleasant saga could have been easily avoided.
Jimi Hendrix never expected to die at the age of 27, but the truth is that anyone can die at any time and provisions need to be made in case such a thing should happen. Legal battles don’t get any smaller just because your estate is smaller, either. Even though you may deem your estate to be practically worthless, family battles and personal pride can mean that the legal process could drag on long after your death, potentially destroying your family. Putting together a Will now can help avoid that altogether.
3. Pablo Picasso – no Will – a $30 million legal bill
Even people who aren’t particularly into art will be familiar with the name of Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso — or, more probably, his slightly more memorable shortened moniker, Pablo Picasso. As a painter, sculptor, printmaker and general creative genius, Picasso was born in Spain but spent most of his life living in France.
Picasso is known for helping to invent the Cubist movement as well as constructed sculpture, collage and a number of other styles which have since become commonplace. Picasso was an extraordinarily prolific artist, being one of very few to achieve fame and fortune during his lifetime. Indeed, he became one of the preeminent and best known artists in the world during the 20th century. It is estimated that he produced around 50,000 pieces of art.
Although Picasso became famous for a number of anti-war paintings he created during his lifetime, he remained politically neutral for much of his life. This is despite living through World War I, World War II, the Spanish Civil War, the Korean War, the Cold War and many more worldwide conflicts. In 1944, though, he joined the French Communist Party and became more politically active. The surrealist poet and his old friend André Breton refused to shake hands with Picasso in the late 1940s, due to his political activism. During the aforementioned Korean War, Picasso went on to form a direct opinion, being opposed to the intervention from the United Nations and United States.
When Picasso died in 1973, he was 91 years old and must have been expecting that death wasn’t too far off. He had also amassed hundreds of millions of pounds worth of assets in cash, gold, bonds, artwork and properties. Despite this, Picasso left no Will. Yes, you did read that correctly – he left absolutely no Will despite his huge fortune. Incredible The resulting contested probate legal battle to settle his estate cost more than $30 million. The battle went on for years, and was finally settled in 1979, more than six years after he died, leaving his assets to be divided up amongst six heirs.
One thing you can bank on is that Picasso, despite his unique approach, would not have been happy to see how his family fought over the contested probate, nor how a big chunk of his fortune was spent on legal fees in doing so.
- 91 years old, wealthy and still left no Will!
The lesson here is simple: make a Will. For a man who was 91 years of age and who had amassed the assets which Pablo Picasso had, not making a Will is simply foolish and almost unbelievable.
However, people can die at any time so it is never too early to make a Will and it’s always wise to do so. It doesn’t matter, either, if your assets are limited as anyone dying intestate will cause a problem for their family and friends, leaving huge legal bills and a court process in order to try and divide up what is left after somebody’s death. You might also be surprised how large your estate could be. Bear in mind that many people have life insurance, often to pay off their mortgage, quite in addition to their other assets. Is not surprising therefore that increasing number of estates left by people who would not consider themselves rich in the least are often over £200,000. And that kind of money sadly drives far too many contested probate claims.
4. Bob Marley
Bob Marley was one of the most refreshing musicians of his age, spreading reggae music across the world and changing the industry forever. Since his death in 1981, his legacy has lived on but has been unfortunately soured by issues surrounding his estate.
The problem for Marley — or, rather, for his surviving family — is that he never had a Will. Despite knowing he was dying of cancer more than a year before he finally passed away, he never commissioned a solicitor to draw up a Will. This is particularly odd when his finances are looked at in more detail, as he set up a number of corporations and vehicles for his money and was clearly quite efficient in terms of his own financial management, being worth around $30million at the time of his death.
- $30million estate superstar left no Will
The problem in Marley’s case was his Rastafarian faith, which meant that he was forbidden from acknowledging his mortality. Creating a Will would have been an acceptance of being a mere mortal and not being at one with God, with the Jamaican state instead dealing with his assets.
- Fraudulent documentation?
The issue arose when two of his closest legal advisors tried to hatch a new plan after Marley had died, enticing his widow, Rita, to forge a number of documents which were then predated to a time before his death.
The scam was uncovered and the parties found guilty, but under Jamaican law, Marley’s name and image rights pass to his heirs — his wife and children — who then have legal ownership of these. With Marley’s brother seeking to gain the rights after what he saw as a criminal attempt to deprive him of his share, the whole situation has developed to become messier and messier over time.
The message here is simple: creating a Will does away with all of the possible issues which might crop up after your death. Having your own wishes recorded in law is the only real way to ensure that your name isn’t sullied by the potential for family arguments after your death. You might not expect to die, but anyone can die at any time and having a Will can protect against any potential issues.
Even if you don’t have a large estate like Marley’s, having a Will is essential.
5. Tupac Shakur – the one thing he didn’t write was a Will
Nobody expects to die young. In the modern age, we might reasonably expect to reach our eighties, at the very least. However, our backgrounds and lifestyles have a lot of influence over our mortality and sometimes it is inevitable that young lives will be taken long before they’re expected, with possibly devastating consequences.
Tupac Shakur was born in Harlem, New York in 1971, growing up in the inner city ghettos in the 1980s. From an early age he lived with ex-convicts and serious criminals and murderers, seeking solace in the performing arts as an actor in a local play at the age of twelve. When he was fifteen, the family moved to Baltimore, Maryland, providing Tupac with a new lease of life where he studied acting, poetry, ballet and jazz, going on to perform in Shakespeare plays and ballets. His musical career began to take off in the early 1990s, becoming one of the best-known rappers in the world throughout the middle of the decade with his group Thug Life.
He also became a record producer and collaborated with a number of artists including Big Syke, Hussein Fatal and Kastro. He also worked closely with The Notorious B.I.G., also known as Biggie Smalls, with whom he later fell out. He was a big reader, being very much in-touch with the literary greats and being well respected as an academic mind.
In August 1992, Shakur was implicated in an incident in which a dropped gun fired and shot a six-year-old child in the forehead, killing him. Shakur agreed to pay a settlement to the parents of the boy and the case was later dropped. He was shot five times in 1995 in what seemed to be a robbery, although this case has been disputed as Shakur always believed he was targeted by gang rivals.
In September 1996, Shakur attended a boxing match at the MGM Grand arena in Las Vegas and he got into a fight with a rival gang member in a hotel. When they later moved on towards a nightclub, their car was stopped by the police who asked them not to play the car stereo too loudly. Shortly afterwards, a white car pulled up next to them, the window was rolled down and a number of gunshots were fired at Shakur. He was rushed to hospital and placed on life support machines, but died on the afternoon of 13th September.
Bizarrely, his ashes were subsequently mixed with marijuana and smoked by his gang members.
- Tupac and his reported $60m- another star who didn’t bother to make a Will
Despite his close brushes with death, Tupac died without having written a Will. When his mother went through his contracts, she discovered that a number of advances and royalties listed in them were not forthcoming and she entered into a dispute with the record company. As Tupac died without making a Will, his mum had to file probate papers at court to establish herself as the executor of his estate as well as his sole living heir – to protect her son’s musical legacy in addition to her own financial security. She has since taken out a number of legal claims, and although they have been contested, some of them have been successful and as a result she has started to recover some of Tupac’s lost millions.
Shakur had next to nothing to show for all his success when he died, without even a piece of property to his name despite reportedly selling more than $60 million worth of music. It seemed that not only had he been negligent in not making a Will, but that he had also been the victim of unfair contracts.
It sounds as if the one thing in Tupac’s life that he did need, was a good lawyer.
Although Shakur was famous worldwide and in a business where intricate and complicated contracts are the norm, the same thing could realistically happen to anybody — particularly if they were to die without a will. Writing a Will is not complicated and doesn’t need to be expensive, either.
Famous Will Disputes? They weren’t the only ones
These are just five of the most famous celebrity Will disputes – but there plenty of others including the following:
• Robin Williams – the actor, who died in 2014 from an apparent suicide, left an estate estimated to be worth around $100 million. But his third wife, Susan , got involved in an expensive legal battle with his children from previous marriages, a dispute which was eventually settled out of court.
• Michael Jackson – though the self-styled “King of pop” did leave a Will, it still resulted in extensive legal and financial disputes – including inheritance claims made by his brothers and sisters, who he intentionally left out of his Will. Not to mention the arguments over legal custody of his three children.
• John Lennon – Julian, the ex-Beatle’s son by his first marriage, challenged the Will and after 16 long years an out-of-court settlement was eventually agreed with Yoko Ono – with the settlement rumoured to be in the region of £15m.
• James Brown – despite the fact that the Godfather of Soul left a Will which appeared to be crystal clear, his $100 million estate was still subject to an inheritance claim in the early noughties which resulted in half this estate passing to his wife and children who had been expressly excluded from the will
• Ike Turner – after the legendary rhythm and blues singer died in 2007, there was a legal battle about the validity of his Will which involved children and ex-wives
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