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Make a Will Month: 3 Famous People Who Really Should Have Made a Will

Nov 03, 2020

By Sheila Morris - Wills and Estates Litigator

Image: Sheila Morris, Wills and Estates LitigatorWith endless riches at their fingertips and assets that will often continue to generate significant wealth after death, millionaires and billionaires have access to some of the most clever wealth and estate planning professionals in the world. But, as US Magazine has been telling us for years, celebrities are just like us. A 2018 survey found that 51% of Canadians do not have a will, and 35% had a will that was not up to date.[1]  Here are three famous people who really should have made a will.

Howard Hughes: Howard Hughes was a billionaire. At the time of his death in 1976, he was living as a recluse in the Bahamas, suffering from mental health issues.[2] He was unmarried and had no children. He also had no will, and years of litigation followed his death. The main dispute surrounded documents Hughes apparently prepared with the intention of distributing his wealth. The Church of Latter-day Saints tendered a handwritten document from a Howard R. Hughes purporting to be his last will and testament (the “Mormon Will”). This document was full of misspellings and purported to divide Hughes’ Estate between a number of beneficiaries, including the Mormons, various universities, the Boy Scouts of America, Hughes’ two ex-wives, and a hitchhiker Hughes picked up once in 1968. Summa Corporation, a company that governed all of Hughes’ assets, tendered a copy of an unsigned will to probate, which left Hughes’ entire estate to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. A roster of handwriting experts provided opinions; a neuropathologist examined a portion of Hughes’ preserved brain; and 200 lawyers worked across six states to find evidence of Hughes’ testamentary intentions, just in the year following his death. More than 600 people attended court claiming to be an heir.[3] In the end, the jury found that Hughes did not author either will, and the Hughes Estate was to be divided between his surviving relatives.

Pablo Picasso: Apparently, Pablo Picasso was “superstitious” about death and never made a will. When he died in 1976, he left behind millions of dollars, gold, investments, chateaux and villas, and countless works of his own art, as well as works by Renoir, Cezanne, Modigliani, and others.[4] A famous lothario during his lifetime, Picasso also left behind four children by three women, a wife, an ex-wife, and several mistresses.[5] To complicate matters, Picasso’s works, likeness, and even signature, are all subject to complicated licensing deals. Vanity Fair described Picasso as “the most reproduced, most widely exhibited, most faked, most stolen, and most pirated artist in the world.”[6] It took six years to divide Picasso’s Estate at an eye-watering cost of $30 million. Interestingly, in lieu of taxes, the French government accepted 203 paintings, 158 sculptures, 88 ceramics, nearly 1,500 drawings, more than 1,600 prints, and 33 sketchbooks from the estate. In 1996, Picasso’s son, Claude Picasso, created the Picasso Administration to manage the heirs’ interests and control the rights to Picasso reproductions, licensing, and merchandising - which itself caused turmoil between the heirs. However, through a European Directive[7] that harmonized copyright periods throughout the EU, Picasso’s paintings will be copyright-protected until 2043 (70 years from his death), following which the works will belong to the public domain. There are, of course, exceptions and nuances to this Regulation, including, for example, its application in jurisdictions with different copyright laws.

Prince: At the time of his death on April 21, 2016, Prince was estimated to have been worth between $100 million and $300 million before tax.[8] Despite his massive wealth, Prince died without a will. Prince’s estate will have to pay tax to the federal government and tax to the state of Minnesota, where he lived. The tax liability could have easily been reduced by simple estate and tax planning. Minnesota intestacy laws require that, since he had no spouse and no living children at the time of his death and his parents had predeceased him, the residue of his estate (after tax) will be distributed between his siblings.[9] Prince’s sister and his five half-siblings will share equally in his estate because, under Minnesota law, “half” relatives inherit as if they are “whole.”[10] Prince’s estate has been mired in litigation since his death: pursuing wrongful death suits against Prince’s treating physicians, fighting off claims from self-proclaimed heirs, and disputing who should administer the Estate. Recently, some of Prince’s siblings have sold their share of the Estate to Primary Wave, a music publishing company. Disputes about the deceased sibling’s will (as one sibling passed during all this) and the role of Primary Wave as a participant in the litigation have caused delays to the Estate’s administration.[11] Suffice it to say, even a simple will would have helped to prevent many of these issues and saved the Estate extraordinary costs.

You do not need to have millions of dollars for your estate to end up in years of litigation. Creating a will could save your estate and your loved ones significant legal fees and also provide privacy and certainty.

If you have any questions or would like information on estate planning, litigation, or disputes, contact estates litigator Sheila Morris at smorris@mindengross.com.



[1] “What 'will' happen with your assets? Half of Canadian adults say they don't have a last will and testament.” (2018, February 02). Retrieved November 02, 2020, from http://angusreid.org/will-and-testament/

[2] "Howard Hughes' Will." World of Forensic Science. Retrieved October 16, 2020 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/howard-hughes-will  

[3] Brewton, P. (1981, September 05). “Jury Divvies Howard Hughes' Fortune After an Heir Raid in Texas Court.” The Washington Post. Retrieved November 2, 2020, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/lifestyle/1981/09/05/jury-divvies-howard-hughes-fortune-after-an-heir-raid-in-texas-court/c0cbb97e-2604-494c-a6c5-782b097fd70d/

[4] “Picasso, Superstitious of Death, Left No Will, His Lawyer Says.” (1973, April 12). The New York Times, p. 48. Retrieved November 2, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/1973/04/12/archives/picasso-superstitious-of-death-left-no-will-his-lawyer-says.html

[5] Esterow, M. (2016, March 07). “The Battle for Picasso's Multi-Billion-Dollar Empire.” Retrieved November 02, 2020, from https://www.vanityfair.com/culture/2016/03/picasso-multi-billion-dollar-empire-battle

[6] Ibid

[7] Council Directive 93/98/EEC of October 29, 1993

[8] Belvedere, M. J. (2017, January 07). “Report: Prince left behind $25 million in real estate, a cash horde, and 67 gold bars.” MSNBC. Retrieved November 2, 2020, from https://www.cnbc.com/2017/01/07/report-prince-left-behind-25-million-in-real-estate-a-cash-horde-and-67-gold-bars.html   

[9] 2011 Minnesota Statutes Chapter 524 – Uniform Probate Code; Section 524.2-101 – Intestate Estate

[10] 2011 Minnesota Statutes Chapter 524 – Uniform Probate Code; Section 524.2-107 – Degree of Kindred and Kindred of Half Blood

[11] Shumaker, J. (2020, March 05). “Death of Prince heir prompts contested will.” Saint Paul Legal Ledger Minnesota Lawyer. Retrieved November 2, 2020, from https://minnlawyer.com/2020/03/05/death-of-prince-heir-prompts-contested-will/

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