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Three Celebrity Estate Planning Fails

By Jordan Walker, J.D. | Last updated on

Just because you're rich and famous doesn't mean you get a pass when it comes to estate planning. Even celebrities with major star power put themselves, their families, and their assets at risk when they fail to create a basic estate plan.

One of the biggest celebrity blunders is not having a valid will. Fortunately, it's also a simple mistake to avoid. Let's take a closer look at some celebrity estate planning mishaps and learn what NOT to do when it comes to your final wishes.

Prince: No Will

In 2016, Prince passed away suddenly without a will. The singer wasn't married when he died and had no children. He left behind an estate worth millions of dollars.

Because Prince had no will, he died intestate. Under Minnesota intestacy laws, the closest surviving relatives inherit a decedent's property, meaning spouse, descendants, and descendants of the parents (the latter being the deceased's siblings and their kids).

Prince's only heirs were his siblings and their children. But that didn't stop a lot of people from coming forward, claiming to be "interested persons." It took six years to settle Prince's estate due to issues relating to the estate's value, taxes, and disputes between the Internal Revenue Service and estate administrators.

Even if you aren't a grammy winning pop star, you should have a will. If not for yourself, do it for your loved ones. Otherwise, like Prince's heirs, they may endure a lengthy and expensive probate process and be subject to hefty estate and inheritance taxes.

By preparing your will, you can explore options to minimize taxes, choose an executor or representative to administer your estate, choose who gets your property (and disinherit the others), and reduce the risk of legal challenges to your will.

Heath Ledger: Outdated Will

When actor Heath Ledger died in 2008, he had a will that left half of his estate to his parents and the other half to his two sisters. Ledger's girlfriend at the time, Michelle Williams, gave birth to their daughter, Matilda, three years earlier in 2005.

But Ledger didn't get around to updating his will prior to his death. Under New York law, where Ledger resided and died, a child born after the execution of a parent's last will is entitled to a portion of the estate even if they're not provided for or mentioned in the will. But Ledger's daughter would have to establish the legal parent-child relationship, like proof of paternity, and make a claim to her father's estate.

In this case, none of this was necessary because Ledger's parents and sisters reportedly gifted their shares of his estate to his daughter. However, for many families, a similar situation would likely result in conflict.

When big changes occur during your life, it's crucial to update your will. Otherwise, your wishes may not be reflected after your death. If you experience a life-changing event, like the birth of a child, you should revise your will or revoke it and create a new one. Other events that may warrant updating your will include:

  • Marriage or a new partner
  • New stepchildren
  • Divorce
  • Relocating to a different state
  • New real estate or personal property
  • Changing your mind about beneficiaries

Robert Kardashian: Holographic Will

In 2003, Robert Kardashian passed away two months after being diagnosed with esophageal cancer. He was survived by his four famous children, Kourtney, Kim, Khloe, and Rob, and his wife, Ellen Pierson, who he married six weeks prior to his death. The details of his estate were kept mostly private, but statements from family members have revealed multiple issues regarding his estate.

His children reportedly thought his will was fake and requested that his handwriting be analyzed. There reportedly were numerous disputes between his kids and his wife over his private journal, car, desk, family photos, and even a stuffed animal he kept since his childhood.

In California, where Kardashian lived and died, a handwritten or holographic will may be valid if it meets certain requirements. Usually, two witness signatures are necessary to prove the validity of a will. However, a holographic will does not require the signatures of two witnesses and can still be considered legally binding if the following is established:

  • The material provisions and signature are in the testator's handwriting
  • Proof of the testator's intent

Kardashian had a successful career as an attorney. Remember, he was part of O.J. Simpson's defense team during his murder trial. Even though he was a lawyer, his questionable estate plan still allegedly caused family drama.

You can avoid similar conflicts by creating a valid will. Generally, this requires that you:

  • Are of legal age (usually at least 18 years old)
  • Have testamentary capacity ("sound mind")
  • Intend to make a will
  • Voluntarily create and sign the will
  • Properly list and distribute your assets
  • Have two witnesses sign and date your will

You can make your own will and other estate planning documents online. FindLaw's state-specific forms ensure that your legal documents comply with estate planning laws in your particular state.

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