Far-Out Friday: Top 10 Hollywood Estate-Planning Mishaps

From Thinkadvisor.com, WP recaps estate-planning blunders from late Hollywood stars, who continue to capture our attention long after they've left the spotlight. Here are some definite 'do nots' to take to your next client meeting.

Estate planning is a sensitive, never mind awkward, topic to bring up with clients. Who wants to talk about their own demise? But after a read through these high-profile faux-pas, you may not be as hesitant to broach the topic. 

10. Gary Coleman

Estate Value: Modest

The 'Diff’rent Strokes' child star may not have left much behind when he passed away in 2010 at age 42, but that didn't mean there weren't complications with his estate. A codicil added to his will in 2009 left everything to self-proclaimed common-law wife, Shannon Price, under Utah law. This left friend and former chief of his corporation, Anna Gray, in a lurch, until a judge ruled in 2012 that the codicil naming was invalid and restored Gray as the hier to  Coleman's estate, which included a home with a mortgage, and TV royalties.

9. Ted Williams

Estate Value: N/A

This legendary ballplayer's estate was not the big issue when he died in 2002, but it was, instead, the battle (in court) that ensued among the hiers over what to do with the sportsman's body. One will stated he should be cremated, while another said he should be preserved cryogenically until his body could be reanimated.

8. Sonny Bono

Estate Value: $1 million

Singer and record producer, Sonny Bono, did not have a will when he died in a skiing accident in 1998, which led ex-wife and singing partner, Cher, to file a lawsuit seeking unpaid alimony via his estate. There was also the 'love child', who turned out to be a fraud, who showed up to the table wanting a share. This leftBono's present wife at the time fighting in court to be named executor.

7. Heath Ledger

Estate Value: $20 million (estimate

When the popular actor died tragically in 2003, his will failed to reflect the birth of his offspring, leaving his entire estate to his parents and sisters instead. Five years later, all turned out well, as the family announced all assets from the estate would go to daughter, Matilda, whom he had with actress Michelle Williams.  

6. Pablo Picasso

Estate Value: $30 million

With an estate that would be worth about $173 million today, this infamous artist died in 1971 leaving behind a fortune and a huge tax bill owed to France, but no will. A collection of Picasso's paintings, featured at the Musee Picasso in Paris, were handed over by the estate as repayment. However, this was a mere fraction of his full 45,000 artwork collection. Meanwhile, it took years to settle the rest of the estate, which included several dropped lawsuits. Eventually, the artist's illegitimate son and five other siblings came to a settlement. (continued.)


5. Philip Seymour Hoffman

Estate Value: $35 million (estimate)

This Oscar-winning actor failed to update his will - reportedly written in 2004 by an expert in real estate not estate planning - despite having two daughters after that time. Following his sudden death earlier this year, Seymour Hoffman's estate was left to his partner, Mimi O’Donnell, giving her the option of rejecting the inheritance to place the assets in a trust. The will did mention his son, born prior to 2004, which risks alienating his daughters from any share of the inheritance. Under New York law, it will likely take a lengthy court battle to correct the oversight.

4. Stieg Larsson

Estate Value: At least $40 million (including post-mortem earnings)

The author of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” and other international best sellers died in 2004, prior to his books taking off, leaving his girlfiend of 30 years, Eva Gabrielsson, and his family to battle over future book sale proceeds. The family claims they gave Gabrielsson the author's apartment and offered her $2.6 million, despite Swedish law not recognizing common-law marriage. Gabrielsson was not satisfied and wrote a autobiography staunchly communicating so in 2011.

3. Joe Robbie

Estate Value: $45 million

The former owner of the Miami Dolphins - the only team undefeated in NFL history during the 1972-73 season - built up a fortune before his death in 1990. Beyond a $45-million tax bill to settle with the IRS, family fueds among his 11 children reached a fever pitch during the settlement of his estate. The IRS was satisfied once the team was sold, but with that went Robbie's legacy, leading to his name being stripped off the stadium he helped build.

2. James Brown

Estate Value: $100 million

After the “Godfather of Soul” died in 2006, his will stated that almost all of his estate be left to the James Brown “I Feel Good Trust," to help disadvantaged children in Georgia and South Carolina, while personal and household effects were to be divvied between his six children, and an education trust set up for his grandchildren. What transpired was a series of lawsuits and a settlement, which was overturned by the South Carolina Supreme Court, ruling that the state’s attorney general had no right mediate - which included rewriting the plan to award half the money to Brown's children. The case was sent back to Aiken County in 2013.

1. Michael Jackson

Estate Value: $7 million to $1.13 billion

When the "King of Pop" died suddenly in 2009, his estate was valued at $7 million by executors, while now the IRS says given intellectual and song copyrights, its worth sits at more than $1 billion. Despite this, the taxman says the estate owes $505 million in back taxes and $197 million in fines and penalties. If the IRS wins, the U.S. government could end up owning interest in songs like the Beatles 'Yesterday.'