No matter your age or financial status, you need to make a Last Will and Testament. The sooner you can do this the better. Should you die without a Last Will and Testament, your assets are subject to intestacy laws, which will not take whatever wishes you may have had into account.
Dying without a Last Will and Testament would also mean that your loved ones will have to endure probate. The probate court process is time consuming and costs a considerable amount of money, especially if your relatives end up fighting over who gets what. As a result, their estate ended up being dragged through a lengthy probate process.
When the King of Pop, Michael Jackson, died in 2009, he left an estate estimated to be worth somewhere around $242 million. Failing to find a will, his mother filed court papers claiming he died intestate. She then asked that she not only be appointed executor of his estate, but also the guardian of his three children.
Then the IRS entered the picture, claiming that Jackson’s estate was worth $161 million at the time he died and he consequently owed millions in estate taxes. Conversely, lawyers for the estate claimed that it was worth only $2,105 at the time of Jackson’s death due to child molestation accusations.
This battle continued for 12 years before a U.S. Tax Court judge finally ruled that Jackson’s estate was worth $4.2 million at the time of his death.
When legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix died of an overdose in 1970, a 30-year court battle ensued over which of his siblings should receive what portion of Hendrix’s reputed $80 million estate.
Hendrix, who was only 27 years old at the time of his death, left no will. His father, James “Al” Hendrix, took over control of his estate. When Al subsequently died in 2002, he left the entire estate to Jimi’s adopted sister Janie, leaving nothing to Jimi’s biological brother Leon. Leon immediately challenged his father’s will and the siblings ultimately settled for an undisclosed amount in 2015.
Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, died in 2018, leaving an $80 million estate, but no will stating how she wanted her assets distributed. No less than three handwritten wills were subsequently discovered more than a year later, all containing messy, often illegible, handwriting, as well as cross-outs, marginal notes, and other confusing irregularities.
Four years later, a Michigan probate court has yet to determine which, if any, of Franklin’s holographic wills is legal. As a result, her four sons are embroiled in a nasty court battle. The court did, however, finally order Franklin's estate to pay $7.8 million to the IRS for its claim of back income taxes.
Who doesn’t remember such Sonny and Cher hits as “The Beat Goes On,” “I’ve Got You, Babe,” and “Baby Don’t Go”? Did you know that after they divorced, Sonny not only remarried, but also served as Mayor of Palm Springs, CA, before becoming the U.S. Congressman for California’s 44th district?
You also might not have known that when he tragically died in a 1998 skiing accident, he left a surprisingly small estate worth only $2 million, but no will. His fourth wife, Mary Bono, filed intestacy proceedings in the California probate court, becoming executor of his estate. The court ultimately awarded part of the estate to her and the other parts to Sonny’s two children: Christy Bono Fasce (from his first marriage) and Chaz Bono (from his marriage to Cher.)
That’s not the end of the story, however. Just last year, Cher filed a $1 million lawsuit against Mary Bono, trustee of the Bono Collection Trust, for breach of contract. Cher claims that Mary has denied her the 50% Sonny and Cher royalty rights she’s entitled to under her divorce settlement from Sonny.
Moral to the Story
All of these cautionary tales have one thing in common: someone dying without a legal will leaving their families behind to face miserable legal battles. To avoid all of this confusion and family strife contact AmeriEstate Legal Plan, Inc.