We’ve moved! We didn’t go far and look forward to seeing you in our new space located at 1255 Crescent Green Drive, Suite 200, Cary, NC 27518

Not Just Prince: 10 Other Celebrities Who Died Without a Will

Prince’s death brought intestacy center stage. I wouldn’t be surprised to see an US Weekly Article titled “Celebrities Are Just Like Us: They Die Without a Will!” As I wrote recently, over 60% of American’s currently do not have an will. Here are a list of 10 celebrities, other than Prince, who died intestate.

1. Howard Hughes

The eccentric billionaire died in 1976 at the age of 70. A devout Mormon, his purported will was discovered at the headquarters of the Mormom Church in Salt Lake City. It was later discovered to be a forgery in Court and his estate was divided among his 22 cousins. No will = “who’s left?”

2. Abraham Lincoln

Is it insulting to call a former President a celebrity? I hope not. Lincoln, a lawyer himself, failed to prepare a will before he was assassinated in 1865. His estate was ultimately split in three equal shares between his wife and two sons. No will = assets held in trust for minor children instead of going to their mother/father.

 3. Steve McNair

Football fans may remember McNair as the mobile Tennessee Titans QB. His life was cut short when his girlfriend at the time killed McNair in an apparent murder-suicide when McNair was 36 years old. No will = intestacy.

4. “Sonny” Bono

The politician and ex-husband of Cher died in a skiing accident in 1998. His then-wife, Mary, was appointed the estate’s administrator, but ex-wife Cher made a claim against the estate and an alleged ‘love child’ came forward as well. No will = courthouse chaos.

5. Stieg Larsson

Swedish author of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and other books died in 2004. He died without a will and his estate was distributed pursuant to Swedish intestacy laws. He had a lifelong partner of 32 years, Eva Gabrielsson, who received nothing. She later came to a resolution with his family to grant her ownership of their shared apartment. No will = loved ones getting screwed.

6. Amy Winehouse

Died at the age of 27 of alcohol poisoning in 2011, without a will. Her parents ended up being the sole heirs and administrators of her estate, although the documentary Amy showed Amy as having a contentious relationship with her father – potentially to the point that she wouldn’t have left him as a one-half beneficiary of her estate. No will = unintended beneficiaries.

7. Bob Marley

Marley died of cancer in 1981 – 8 months after he discovered his illness. In all that time, he didn’t think to have a will prepared. Under Jamaican law, his estate was divided among his wife and 11 children, leaving his wife, Rita, with only 10% of his assets. No will = spouse unable to manage family assets.

8. Jimi Hendrix

Hendrix died in 1970 at the age of 27. The fight over his estate lasted over 30 years, particularly Jimi’s likeness and image. In 2015, a settlement was reached prior to trial to determine how much Hendrix Licensing, a company run by Jimi’s brother Leon’s business partner, owed to the Hendrix estate for sales of unauthorized merchandise. No will = no closing the estate.

9. James Dean

James Dean died in 1955 at the age of 24. Although he had only made three movies at the time, he failed to have a will prepared and his estate went to his father. Having some uncommon forethought, his father used the money he received to estate a foundation to maximize the commercial value of Dean’s name, likeness, and image. Dean has been one of the top 10 highest earning deceased celebrities up until 2012. In 2015, his income was $8.5 million and he’s been gone for over 60 years. No will = no direction.

10. Pablo Picasso

Picasso died in 1973 at the age of 91. Even at that age, Picasso didn’t plan ahead. His family fought over his estate amid numerous claims, even one by the French government for past-due taxes. His kids ultimately received the bulk of his estate, but only after several long-fought legal battles. No will = family heartache.

Lessons learned? Famous people fail to plan too. Many of them died young and unexpectedly. Failing to plan is planning to fail. It’s never to early to plan to protect your family.

Author Bio

Paul Yokabitus

Paul Yokabitus is the CEO and Managing Partner of Cary Estate Planning, a Cary, NC, estate planning law firm. With years of experience in estate and elder law, he has zealously represented clients in various legal matters, including estate planning, guardianship, Medicaid planning, estate administration, and other cases.

Paul received his Juris Doctor from the Campbell University School of Law and is a North Carolina Bar Association member. He has received numerous accolades for his work, including being named among the “Best Attorney in Cary” in 2016 and 2017 by Cary News and Rising Star in 2020-2023 by Super Lawyers.

LinkedIn | State Bar Association | Avvo | Google