News of the death of recording artist Prince shocked the music world last week. However, the legal world was shocked this week when it was revealed that Prince died without a will or estate plan in place. While estimates suggest that approximately 55% of Americans do not have a will or other estate plan in place, we are always shocked when a wealthy individual passes without leaving a Will. Here are a few notable examples:
Picasso died in 1973 at the age of 91, leaving behind a fortune in assets that included artwork, five homes, cash, gold and bonds. Because Picasso did not leave a will, it took 6 years to settle his estate at a cost of $30 million dollars. His assets were eventually divided up among six heirs.
The eccentric billionaire died in 1976 at the age of 70. Although a will was found at the headquarters of the Mormon Church in Salt Lake City, it was later proved to be a forgery. His estate was ultimately divided among his 22 cousins.
Although the legendary musician died in 1970, the battle over his estate raged on for over 30 years, because he left no will regarding the distribution of his estate. To complicate matters, the estate of musicians and other artists often continue to generate money long after their death, causing prolonged arguments about royalties and licensing of music.
Salvatore “Sonny” Bono
Sonny Bono was a songwriter, singer and politician who had been in the public eye since the 1960’s. He died unexpectedly in a skiing accident in 1998, and had not left a will. He had been married four times, with three of the marriages producing children. He also had an out-of-wedlock son born during his marriage to Cher. At the time of his death, he had a surviving spouse, who was appointed administrator of his estate. Ultimately, the estate was divided between his wife and his surviving children, although ex-wife Cher also submitted a claim to the estate for unpaid alimony.
Mr. Larsson was the Swedish author who wrote the novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which was recently turned into a popular movie. He died in 2004 shortly before he became a popular and financially successful writer. He died without a will; Swedish law dictated that Larsson’s estate was to be divided between his father and his brother. Sadly, his lifelong partner of 32 years, Eva Gabrielsson, received nothing.
Despite being a lawyer, our nation’s 16th president died without a will. His estate at the time of his death in 1865 was worth approximately $85,000. As an aside, history tells us that the items in his pockets on the night of the assassination were a pocketknife, a linen handkerchief, a sleeve button, a fancy watch fob, two pairs of spectacles, a lens polisher, a tiny pencil, and a brown leather wallet, which contained a Confederate five dollar bill and nine old newspaper clippings. These items are now all held at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.
Famous or not, everyone should have a will. A will is simple to do, and can save your family a lot of money and headaches. Whether you are young or old, rich or of moderate means, a will is an important document that you should have!