The question is: Why?
It seems like such a basic concept; everyone needs a will. Otherwise the laws of the state you live in determine who receives your assets and controls your legacy after you die. Without a will, you have no say in what happens, and the chances of a family fight increase dramatically.
Even though a will is relatively simple to create, studies consistently show that between 60% and two-thirds of adult Americans don’t have a will. All states recognize a “holographic” will, which is one in your own hand-writing. They are perfectly valid as long as a couple basic conditions are met. This is not to say they are perfect by any means, but usually better than nothing. And most lawyers can create a basic will for a few hundred dollars or even less.
Even when an estate is modest is size, dying intestate — without a will — is never a good idea. So why don’t more adults have wills — including a surprising number of the extremely-wealthy?
These musical superstars highlight important lessons about why so many people fail to create a will before they die:
1. Prince: Didn’t Trust Professionals
The artist originally known, then formerly known, and then known again as Prince, reportedly developed a deep distrust of professionals, including lawyers. He felt he had been burned earlier in his career by signing legal documents, so a stream of professionals was unable to convince Prince Rogers Nelson to sign important legal documents like a will.
The result? His heirs and his legacy are in for trouble with what will likely be an expensive and drawn-out court fight over his vast fortune and musical legacy.
The first battle over the Prince Estate will be to determine who Prince’s heirs actually are. This morning, a man named Carlin Q. Williams filed the first official paternity claim, based on his mother’s affidavit saying she met Prince in July of 1976. One thing led to another, and nine months later, Carlin was born. A DNA test will come next, based on blood samples already preserved from Prince’s body.
This paternity claim is just the beginning of the long road for the Prince Estate, trying to determine who should receive Prince’s money. If Prince had done a simple will, his instructions would have dictated who received what. Paternity tests would not have been necessary.
Sadly, Prince’s distrust of professionals means that a large chunk of his fortune will be spent paying legions of professionals while his heirs (both actual and potential) try to sort out the mess he left behind.
2. Tupac Shakur: Died Young
Tupac was tragically gunned-down at the young age of 25. At the time, his estate had more debt than actual money, although it obviously had great earning potential with the royalties yet to start flowing. Given Tupac’s youth, it’s hard to fault him for not thinking of his estate planning. But because he didn’t, Tupac’s estate faced a mountain of debt, countless creditor claims, and a court battle for a share of his fortune by his “dead-beat dad.”
The good news is that his mother, Afeni Shakur, learned from his lack of estate planning and reportedly set up a trust to make sure that Tupac’s legacy will be well protected. Afeni recently died, but not before she oversaw the growth of the Tupac Shakur estate into an enterprise worth around $40 to $50 million, with earnings approaching $1 million annually to this day.
Because Afeni set up a trust to manage the Tupac legacy outside of the court process, no fighting is expected — even though Afeni was in the midst of a divorce when she died. She chose Tom Whalley, the former head of Warner Bros. Records, to protect Tupac’s legacy. Without good estate planning, the Tupac legacy certainly would have been subjected to another fortune fight in court.
3. Bob Marley: Was Bound By Religious Beliefs
Bob Marley lived his life following the Rastafarian beliefs. Yet he was no financial novice. When he died from cancer at age 36 in 1981, Marley was said to be worth $30 million and had set up a number of corporations.
Marley believed he was not able to create a will, because doing would so cause him to recognize his own mortality. This would be contrary to the Rastafarian faith. As a result, his estate has been dragged through court for years, with a corporation run by his widow and children in control.
Bob Marley’s heirs have become adept at fighting in court over his image, likeness, name, and his legacy — including suing to stop Marley’s half-brother from selling “Mama Marley” fish. Yet those same heirs have repeatedly sold Marley’s image and name for profit.
Would Marley have wanted his legacy to be used this way? Would it have been consistent with his Rastafarian beliefs? In the eyes of the law, it doesn’t matter what he would have wanted, because he never created a will.
4. Sonny Bono: Procrastinated
The male half of the famed duo, Sonny and Cher, Sonny Bono had more reasons than most musicians to take care of his estate planning. After his singing career ended, Sonny went on to become the mayor of Palm Springs and then a United States Congressman. He died in a tragic skiing accident at age 62, leaving behind a wife and four children. Or was it five?
After his widow filed to open Sonny’s estate — intestate because there was no will — another man came forward and said he was Sonny’s child from a prior relationship. The man claimed Sonny admitted to the affair with his mother in Sonny’s autobiography. He convinced the probate court to allow DNA testing.
After the results came back, the man went away quickly and quietly — either with a cash settlement out of court, or with nothing because he didn’t have the right DNA. The public records don’t reveal the answer.
But one thing is clear — with even a simple will Sonny Bono could have chosen to include or exclude any children born outside of marriage, without subjecting his heirs to an emotional court fight. As a Congressman, Sonny Bono should have known better and taken steps to be prepared ahead of time. His only excuse is a poor one, yet all too common.
No one should procrastinate with estate planning. No one is promised tomorrow.
5. Snoop Dogg: Wants His Heirs To Fight
Why is a musician who is still alive included in this list? The famed rapper and actor, Snoop Dogg, was asked by a Business Insider reporter if, unlike Prince, did he have a will? Snoop’s answer: “I don’t give a f— when I’m dead. What am I gonna give a f— about?”
In fact, Snoop Dogg said he hoped to come back as a butterfly and be able to watch people fighting over his money.
Apparently it’s safe to say that Snoop Dogg, like Prince, does not have a will. It’s also safe to say that most people with money don’t want their loved ones to fight after they’ve gone.
Estate planning is an act of love for those you care most about. People don’t create wills for themselves, they do it for those they leave behind. Your spouse, children, and other loved ones will already face a difficult time when you die. So why make it harder for them by increasing the cost, inconvenience, and chances of a family fight if you don’t have a will?
Unless you want them to fight, like Snoop Dogg. If that’s the case, then these five talented musicians can serve as good estate-planning role models for you.
Danielle and Andrew Mayoras are co-authors of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! 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 and Google+