Shortly after Amy Winehouse passed away from accidental alcohol poisoning at the age of 27 last July, reports surfaced that she not only had a will, but she had the foresight to update her will after her divorce from ex-husband, Blake Fielder-Civil. These early reports have recently been proven wrong.
Probate records were recently filed showing that Winehouse died intestate, meaning without a valid will. The estate value is listed as £4,257,580 (worth about $6.7 million U.S.) in total assets, but taxes and other debts reduce the value to £2,944,554, or $4.66 million, U.S. Many believed her estate would be worth much more, perhaps as high as $15 to $20 million.
But, let’s not jump to conclusions so quickly. The assets passing through probate court are those left in her individual name when she died. So anything held jointly with someone else, or that had a beneficiary designation (like a life insurance policy), would pass outside of probate, directly to the other person. Also, if Winehouse had a trust — which is unlikely, considering she didn’t have a will — anything held in the trust would also avoid probate. None of these types of assets would be included in her estate value as listed in the probate documents.
What of her ex-husband, Fielder-Civil, who has been serving a lengthy jail sentence for burglary related to his drug addiction? As an ex-spouse, he gets nothing. Some have speculated that Winehouse still loved him and would have left him something if she had a will. Whether that’s true or not, it doesn’t matter at this point, because there is no will. That’s the biggest problem with procrastinating with estate planning; you have no say over “who” receives “what” when you die. For example, did Winehouse want her older brother, Alex, to inherit anything? He doesn’t, because she had no will.
Instead of money passing to her brother or to her ex-husband, it will all go to Winehouse’s parents, Mitch and Janis. Mitch is the estate administrator, according to the probate documents.
It’s too bad that the earlier reports of Winehouse having done proper estate planning have proven to be inaccurate. We previously applauded the foresight that a 27-year old would have had in updating her will after her divorce. By having no will at all, despite earning millions of dollars in her short career, Winehouse joined the dozens of other famous celebrities who procrastinated with their estate planning.
This has many pitfalls, for celebrities and non-celebrities alike. Without a will, you have no say about who inherits your legacy, and you also lose control over how and when they receive it. In addition, wealthier individuals lose the ability to do estate-tax avoidance planning. For many families, probate court can often be a breeding ground for family fights, and this is especially true when there is no will.
Wills do not cost much to have prepared the right way, by an experienced estate planning attorney. No adult with any level of assets should be without one, especially someone with millions — no matter what their age. In fact, for most people a will is only the beginning of a comprehensive estate plan, but it’s a good start.
By Danielle and Andy Mayoras, co-authors of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights!, husband-and-wife legacy expert attorneys, and hosts of the national television special, Trial & Heirs: Protect Your Family Fortune! For the latest celebrity and high-profile cases, with tips to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your clients, click here to subscribe to The Trial & Heirs Update. You can “like” them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.