It’s hard to imagine what estate planning would be like if you were a rockstar like Prince or Jimi Hendrix. You would think that with so many valuable assets, it would be their number one concern.
Even with millions of dollars and important beneficiaries, these celebrities and their families learned the importance of estate planning the hard way. So, here are five celebrities that died intestate (without a Will) and the cautionary tales for estate planning.
Five celebrities that died without a Will
1. Amy Winehouse
Amy Winehouse passed away in 2011 at the age of 27 from alcohol poisoning. Initially, family and friends thought that Amy had a valid Will from 2009, but they later discovered that she never executed it and she died intestate. Because Amy wasn’t married when she died, her father, Mitch Winehouse, became the estate administrator.
Amy’s parents went on to inherit the entirety of her fortune. In the documentary Amy, it was claimed that Winehouse and her father had a rocky relationship. However, Mitch has since said this was misleading. After debts and taxes, Amy’s parents inherited over $4.66 million, and her ex-husband, Blake Fielder-Civil, didn’t receive anything.
The American singer-songwriter died intestate, leaving behind a complicated and valuable estate with no instructions on distributing it. He was twice divorced and unmarried with no kids. However, he had plenty of half and full siblings who had children. These family members claimed they were rightful heirs to his estate.
Without any Will, and with family members claiming they were entitled heirs to the estate, a lengthy legal battle ensued, costing millions of dollars. Finally, in January 2022, estate administrators reached an agreement and the estate was valued at $156 million. Unfortunately, in the six years it took to reach the agreement, two of six of the heirs died.
3. Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin passed away on August 16th, 2018. At the time, it was believed that Aretha died intestate. Under intestate law, her estate would be divided equally between her sons. However, her family found three handwritten Wills in her Detroit home years later.
According to Michigan law, a handwritten Will can be admitted for consideration without a witness as long as it’s signed, dated, and in the decedent's handwriting. In these Will’s, Aretha included some conflicting final wishes for the distribution of her estate. For example, Aretha did not list her oldest son, Clarence, as a beneficiary. Instead, she states that her other sons “check on Clarence’s welfare weekly and oversee his needs.”
In 2021, another draft of Aretha’s Will emerged from 2018. This Will included more specific instructions, including clear instructions about the distribution of clothes, cars and who would act as the estate's representative. However, Aretha never signed this draft. Because of this confusion, there has been bitter squabbling amongst her surviving family and ongoing legal battles over her estate.
4. Bob Marley
Bob Marley died of cancer in 1981 and famously didn’t write a Will because it went against his Rastafarian beliefs. Under Jamaican law, when someone dies intestate, 10% of the deceased’s estate goes to the widow immediately. The widow then gains access to an additional 45% over their lifetime. The remaining amount is divided equally among children.
At the time of Bob Marley’s death, he was married to Rita Marley and had 11 children from seven different women, and the estate was worth $11.5 million. Although the distribution should’ve been straightforward, some family members deemed the law unfair. Today, after decades of legal battles disputing how to divide the estate, four of his children now manage Bob Marley’s estate as it continues to earn money through various Marley-themed products. In 2020, the Bob Marley name earned $14 million.
5. Jimi Hendrix
Jimi Hendrix unexpectedly died in September of 1970. At his death, he didn’t have a valid Will. Due to intestacy laws, Hendrix’s estate went to his next of kin, his father, Al Hendrix. When Al died in 2002, he left the entire estate to his stepdaughter Janie Hendrix and left out Jimi’s brother, Leon Hendrix.
However, Leon said that he was left out of the inheritance because of Janie’s influence and contested Al’s Will. More than five decades after his death, the legal battle over his estate continues. Jimi Hendrix’s estate is now worth over $175 million.
The time to start planning is now
These stories of celebrities who died without a Will are extreme examples of just how important it is to have a valid Will before you die. But unfortunately, most people hesitate to write a Will because they don’t like to face the idea of dying or death.
But writing your Will before you think you need one is the perfect time to start. Even if you aren’t a famous rockstar, your assets are worth more than you think and planning your estate helps protect you and your loved ones.
To start writing your Will online, visit Willed.