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There are a number of high profile musicians who have died without a Trust or a Will. Some celebrities had their estates divided amicably by family members, but in most cases those who died without a Will end up having the rights to their estates battled out in courts for years.

There are many reasons why people have not got round to writing their Will, such as; they cannot afford the expense of writing a Will, they do not have the time, they do not know how to write a Will, they do think it is worth writing a Will due to their lack of assets, etc.  All of these reasons are understandable, but it is difficult to comprehend why some international stars die without ever making a Will? With their vast fortunes and the ongoing earning power of their estate, you would expect those types of preparations to be made well in advance. But that is not always the case.

  1. Jimi Hendrix

    Jimi Hendrix was an American rock guitarist, singer and songwriter. His mainstream career only lasted four years before his untimely death in 1970 at the age of 27 due to a drugs overdose.

    When he passed away in 1970, his fortune was worth more than $800,000 or the equivalent of $5 million in 2019. Since his death, album sales have continued and his estate is now valued at $175 million.

    Jimi Hendrix died without a Will and nearly 50 years after his death, his estate is still subject to legal wrangling. With one Hendrix biographer claiming that those closest to Hendrix during his life. Particularly relatives on his mother’s side never benefiting from his body of work. 

  2. Aretha Franklin

    Aretha Franklin, the “queen of soul” known for hits like Respect and Think, died in August 2018 at the age of 76 due to advanced pancreatic cancer. The legendary singer had been diagnosed with cancer in 2010 and in 2017 had announced her retirement.   

    When she passed away, her net worth was estimated at $80 million. But despite her wealth and an awareness of her deteriorating heath, it did not appear that a Last Will and Testament was in place. This left her fours sons and other family members to establish how much she was worth and then to determine how to share her estate. A process expected to take a number of years.

    Nine months after her death, not one, not two, but three handwritten Wills, purportedly executed by Franklin, were discovered in her former home. The last Will being dated 2014.  All Wills have been filed with the probate court and representatives of the estate are awaiting a decision on the Will’s validity.

  3. Amy Winehouse

    Amy Winehouse was an English singer and songwriter. She was known for her expressive vocals and her eclectic mix of musical genres, including soul, rhythm and blues, and jazz.  Winehouse was plagued by drug and alcohol addiction. She died of alcohol poisoning on 23 July 2011 at the age of 27. After her death, her album Back to Black became one of the UK's best-selling albums of the 21st century.

    Probate records filed showing that Amy Winehouse died intestate, meaning without a valid Will. The estate value was listed as over £4 million, but after taxes and other debts the value of her estate reduced to under £3 million. As she did not have a Will, her parents inherited her fortune and the singer’s father, Mitch Winehouse, was appointed as the administrator. But even eight years after her death, her ex-husband, Blake Civil Fielder, is said to be making a £1 million claim from her estate and demanding a lump sum and monthly allowance. 

  4. Kurt Cobain

    Kurt Cobain was the guitarist and front man of the rock band Nirvana.  He is remembered as one of the most iconic and influential rock musicians in the history of alternative music. Despite his many praises and accolades, he struggled with depression and heroin addiction. He tragically lost his life to suicide on 5th April 1994 at the tender age of 27 from a gunshot wound.

    At the time of his death, Kurt Cobain had a net worth of $50 million. Kurt Cobain made the mistake that up to two-thirds of adults make. He never made out even a simple Will. His assets were passed to Courtney Love and Frances Cobain. By dying intestate, not only did Cobain have no say in who received his assets, or how or when they received them, he was not able to name an executor or trustee to manage his assets. This included his image rights, publishing and performance royalties, and his valuable licensing rights. As a result, Love was left in charge, despite her well-publicised struggles with drugs, psychiatric problems, and instability.

    His lawyer claimed that Kurt Cobain did not want his wife Courtney Love to benefit from his estate and this led to decades of battles between Love and Cobain’s Nirvana partners, Dave Grohl and Krist Nososelic.  

  5. Michael Jackson

    Michael Jackson was dubbed the “King of Pop” and was considered one of the most significant cultural figures of the 20th century.

    When preparing for a series of comeback concerts scheduled to begin in July 2009, Jackson died unexpectedly at the age of 50 after suffering a cardiac arrest on June 25th 2009. Authorities declared his death a homicide and his personal physician was convicted of involuntary manslaughter on his death and sentenced to four years in prison.

    At the time of his death, Jackson was reportedly worth around $500 million. And his estate still continues to earn millions of pounds per year and is amongst the top earning dead celebrities.

    Immediately following his death, his mother, Katherine Jackson, filed court papers claiming that Jackson died intestate. Although a Last Will and Testament was later discovered, this highlights the importance that if you actually write a last Will and Testament, it must be properly safeguarded. It should be held in a safe place and those that are affected are aware of its existence. A Will, especially one with burial instructions, is of little use if it cannot be located and acted upon immediately upon a death.

Although many of the deaths were untimely, many of the disputes, arguments and difficulties would have been minimised had a Will been in place. Dying interstate, or without a valid Will, can cause serious problems to those left behind. These celebrities might not have had a Will, but it might be in your interests to seek advice. 

If you die without a Will, it means you die “intestate.”  When this happens it is up to the government to determine how your estate is distributed after your death. Over half of UK adults are without a Will. This means that up to 30 million individuals now run the risk of dying intestate, which may not reflect their wishes.

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