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Published 25th March 2020 | Wills

Celebrities and their Wills

Most of us who make a Will tend to follow a familiar pattern – we usually divide our assets up between partner, children and perhaps siblings. There may be bequests to friends, and perhaps we leave a little to a charity dear to our heart. Celebrities and their Wills, however, can be unpredictable. 

When celebrities leave estates measured in the millions (or even the billions), we would expect these Wills to follow a similar pattern. Sometimes they do — but not always. Some celebrity Wills are very unexpected, the most recent being Kirk Douglas leaving his entire £61m fortune to charity.

Avoiding “trust fund children”

Many celebrities have worked very hard for their fortunes, often starting from very humble beginnings. Sean Connery is an extreme version of this, growing up in poverty and earning less than £2 a week for his first job. Although he has built up a large fortune, he has made it clear that his son too will have to work for every penny.

He is by no means the only celebrity to have this attitude.  Gordon Ramsay has said of his £113 million and his four children that “It’s definitely not going to them, and that’s not in a mean way; it’s to not spoil them.”

The actor Philip Seymour Hoffmann, who died in 2014, took a similar view. He was quoted before his death as saying that he had no wish for his children to become “Trust Fund kids”, and so left everything to his partner.

Many other celebrities have taken much the same stance. These include musicians Elton John, Sting and Gene Simmons, entrepreneur Richard Branson, filmmaker George Lucas and TV chef Nigella Lawson. By contrast, the late George Michael, who had no children of his own, bequeathed most of his fortune to his various Godchildren.

Leaving it all to charity

Whether we leave £100,000 or £100 million, the most common alternative to leaving it to the family is to donate it to charity. Most of the celebrities above have adopted this approach, although Sting has suggested that he intends to spend most of it while he is still alive.

Simon Cowell intends to set up foundations related to children and dogs, while George Lucas’s donations will go towards improving education. Elton John and his husband David Furnish will leave most of their $300 million to the various charities Elton has set up.

Andrew Lloyd Webber, on the other hand, does not intend to cut out his children altogether, but he intends to leave the majority of his $1.2 billion to various arts programmes.

Families at war

We do not necessarily know how the children of these various celebrities view the situation, but family members who are cut out of a Will do not always take it well. Some celebrity Wills have caused considerable bitterness within the family.

“Mommy Dearest” Joan Crawford seems to have had a strange relationship with her four adopted children. When she died, two of them received Trust Funds of $77,500 each, while the other two got nothing.

Sir Bruce Forsyth left everything to his wife, completely cutting out his children, and similarly Patrick Swayze cut out his family in favour of his wife, prompting a legal challenge that claimed she had unduly influenced him. James Brown, meanwhile, left everything to underprivileged children and nothing to his own children or his wife, who went to court trying to get the Will changed.

This kind of problem often occurs, however, when a celebrity dies intestate. Bob Marley left no Will, since it was against his Rastafarian religion, and his wife allegedly forged documents to secure his fortune. His family has been trying for nearly forty years to gain control of both his rights and his assets.

Barry White also died intestate, and this resulted in his estranged wife and his current partner fighting over the estate — eventually, the courts ruled in favour of the wife. On the other hand, there was a more peaceful, if difficult, outcome to the singer Prince dying without a Will. He had no children, and so his $300 million was divided between his siblings.

The 27 Club

It is notorious that many musicians have died at the age of twenty-seven, either by suicide or from self-destructive habits. It is perhaps not surprising that some of these young people neglected to make a Will before they died.

This certainly applied to both , whose estate was for many years managed by a lawyer until his father sued for the music rights. After a lengthy battle, the estate went to Hendrix’s adopted sister, though this has not ended the feuds.

Amy Winehouse had a difficult relationship with her husband, Blake Fielder-Civil, and she ensured in her Will that he did not see a penny of her estate. Instead she left it to her parents.

By contrast, Janis Joplin ended a life known for hard partying in the spirit in which she had lived. One specific bequest in her Will left $2,500 to throw a party for two hundred guests to say goodbye to her in the way she would have enjoyed.

Leaving it to the pets

Most of us love our pets, but some people take this to extreme — including some celebrities. Oprah Winfrey is believed to be worth around $3 billion, and most of it will be going to her foundations. However, she has included a bequest of $30 million to her dogs.

Oprah is not the only one. Fashion designer Alexander mcqueen left most of his estate to his dogs, while Karl Lagerfeld is believed to have left his $200 million to his cat, Choupette. Dusty Springfield also adored her cat, Nicholas. Her Will specified a range of instructions for his benefit, from being sung to sleep by her records to being “married” to a friend’s cat.

Strange requests

Celebrities and their Wills are unpredictable. Strange stipulations in celebrities’ Wills are not restricted to pets. Harry Houdini’s Will insisted that his wife should hold a seance once a year to allow him to visit her. She followed the instructions, but apparently he never turned up.

When Freddie Mercury died, it emerged that he had left most of his estate to his best friend (and former girlfriend) Mary Austin. However, he had a specific request for her — to bury his cremated remains in a secret location. The place has never been found.

Some specifications in Wills set conditions on the heirs. Hugh Hefner, in spite of knowing a thing or two about wild living, stipulated that any of his heirs, (his wife and children), who indulged in hard drugs would be cut out of the Will. Hefner even empowered the Trustees to order tests if they considered it necessary.

Some requests are more straightforward, if ambitious. Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek, asked for his ashes to be scattered in space. The staff at NASA, many of whom had been inspired as children by Roddenberry’s creation, were only too happy to oblige.

Not all celebrities die wealthy

We assume that fame equals money, and usually it does. But not always — sometimes the money is gone before the celebrity dies. Hollywood legend Mickey Rooney was down to his last $80,000 when he died, but even so he disinherited his wife and children, and the fate of the money has never been revealed.

Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith, on the other hand, who had at one time been worth $474, had precisely nothing to leave her young daughter when she died in 2007.

So, there you have it! Celebrities and their Wills!
You do not need to be a celebrity to specify your wishes for your estate after you die. Why not get in touch with us to discuss your legacy to be?

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