In Honor of Halloween: Celebrity Probate Nightmares

screaming woman.. spooky

Recently, we heard about the tragic passing of Anne Heche. I was astounded to read she did not have a will, although the mother of minor children.  

Earlier this year, I spoke at the Broward County Library regarding “Probate Nightmares.” While I used recent stories you may be familiar with as examples of what not to do, I think it shows us what we ALL must do! And I hope that Anne Heche’s legacy will not end up as a topic of my next speaking engagement.

Nightmare 1. Rockstar Prince’s Intestate Estate.

Without a will, your wishes are determined according to state law. The court may make the decision as to who will receive your assets. If you have minor children, a guardian may not be the one you would have chosen.

Prince died intestate. His full sister, five half-siblings, and hundreds more individuals claimed to be entitled to his funds. The IRS then fought with his family for about six years to determine the value of his taxable estate. Lesson learned: avoid a nightmare by consulting a trusted attorney to plan for the future.

Nightmare 2. Aretha Franklin’s improperly completed wills.

Suppose you do not clearly and unequivocally complete your estate plan documents according to state law. In that case, your family may end up with a mess like Aretha’s Family.  They assumed she had no will, but a few handwritten documents were found. Then her attorneys found a draft “Will of Aretha Franklin” that was never signed. She had four improperly completed “wills” that forced her estate and assets to remain stuck in court years following her passing. All to await a judge to rule on the validity of those documents. Lesson learned: Ensure your documents are properly signed and executed according to state law.

Nightmare 3. Jerry Garcia’s ex-wives: Selecting the right “fiduciaries” or persons to handle your matters.

Jerry Garcia’s family dealt with a complex probate estate. His decisions led to a family and court battle. His third wife was named the Executor (Personal Representative) responsible for the ongoing alimony payments to his second wife. Lesson learned: choose the right people to fulfill your responsibilities and wishes.

Nightmare 4. Robin William’s “Stuff.”

The family of Robin Williams was lucky his estate plan was well prepared; except for one major issue: the plan for his collectibles, photographs, and memorabilia, including one Academy Award, six Golden Globes, two Emmys, and five Grammys, was left unresolved.  His family ended up in a bitter feud over these unique and treasured items. 

Lesson learned: personal property, “our stuff,” may have emotional or financial worth. You don’t want your family fighting over your personal belongings.

Although each celebrity discussed likely had agents, managers, and attorneys heavily involved in their careers, none had an ideal estate plan.

Given the constantly changing laws and the inherent complexities in today’s families, everyone—famous or not—needs to take time to protect their loved ones with a complete, updated estate plan.

Andrea L. Jakob, PA is located at 12401 Orange Drive, suite 219 in Davie. They can be reached at 954-406-5239 or on the web at