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Four celebrities who left behind important lessons about Wills

Posted by Kings Court Trust | Feb 18, 2020 9:21:26 AM

It’s no secret that mistakes, misconceptions and unfortunate circumstances occur when people make (or fail to make) arrangements for their estate. However, these errors become amplified when they are made by famous people. As human beings, we are curious by nature and our curiosity often piques when we get a glimpse into the lives of individuals with assets most of us can only dream of and the public battles that may ensue among the deceased’s heirs.

Regardless of value and status, there are notable lessons that celebrity deaths have taught us about planning our legacy. Let’s take a look at four celebrities that have passed away, leaving behind lessons we can all learn from.


Prince: Preparing a Will is critical to help avoid confusion


Prince Rogers Nelson, more commonly known as Prince, died at the age of 57 on 21 April 2016. The “Purple Rain” artist was a relatively private individual, but he left behind a highly successful musical legacy and a staggering USD $300 million (£230 million) estate.

Soon after his death, it was reported that he did not prepare a Will. His failure to do so resulted in dozens of people coming forward and claiming to be an heir, including previously unknown ex-wives, children, siblings and other distant relatives.

After many months of legal drama, a Probate Judge confirmed that Prince’s sister and five half-siblings would inherit the millions he left behind. Given reports of past unpleasant legal battles between Prince and his half-siblings, do you think this is what Prince would’ve wanted? Possibly not, but we’ll never know for sure.

What we do know is, having a Will would have made his intentions clear and ensured that his only heirs were those that he designated.


Paul Walker: Start planning early


In the UK, only 30% of people aged 35-44 have a Will. This is the age when many significant life events occur, such as buying a house or starting a family, which should trigger the need to write a Will. Many people tend to put it off for later in life, but not in this case.

Paul Walker, the notable “Fast and Furious” actor, was at the height of his career and only 40 years old when he died in a tragic car accident. Fortunately, at the age of 28, three years after his daughter was born, Paul prepared his Will. It was a short, clear list of instructions that transferred his USD $25 million (£19 million) estate to his teenage daughter through a Trust and stated that his mother would serve as her guardian until she turned 18. That was it.

His intentions were precise and allowed his family to grieve and move on sooner.


Audrey Hepburn: Be specific


British actress, fashion icon and humanitarian, Aubrey Hepburn, prepared a Will before she passed away in 1993. However, one aspect of her wishes caused a series of disputes that only got resolved in 2015.

In Ms. Hepburn’s Will, she stated that her memorabilia, which included a variety of high-value costumes and scripts, was to be split 50/50 between her two sons. There were no further instructions about which specific items would go to which son.  With this level of uncertainty, it would be up to the sons to come to an agreement on how this would be settled, which did not happen quickly or without expensive legal costs. Ultimately, it was agreed that the items would be allocated according to which items were already in possession of each son, which additional items they each wanted to keep and which items would be sold at auction, the proceeds of which would be split between the sons 50/50.

The lesson to be learned here is the importance of specificity in a Will. With precise instructions regarding one’s possessions, there will be a reduced risk of bitter legal and family disputes.


Muhammad Ali: Plan for more than assets


Boxing legend, Muhammad Ali, had been ill for many years before his passing so it was no surprise that he had taken the time to plan for, not only his estate worth over USD $80 million (£61 million), but for how exactly he wanted the world to bid farewell to him.

Mr. Ali’s Will included very explicit instructions for his multi-day memorial service, which included a festival, an Islamic funeral and an extravagant public memorial to include over 15,000 of his fans – and his wishes were carried out according to his Will.

Some of us desire an elaborate send-off, but others do not. We all have different personalities and so the important point here is to also think about any special wishes you may have for your funeral or memorial service to ensure you get the type of farewell you want or how you may want your remains cared for. A Will can remove any uncertainty in that area too.


Kings Court Trust is an award-winning estate administration provider and have an unrivalled knowledge of what to do when someone dies. If you have any questions regarding estate administration, contact our Client Services Team on 0300 303 9000 for an informal discussion to find out more.


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Topics: Estate Planning, Intestacy, Kings Court Trust, Wills, Celebrity, marriage