How Have Celebrities Faired in Estate Planning?

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You can learn a lot from the estate plans of celebrities.

Many Americans are enthralled with celebrities.

These could be athletes, actors, musicians, politicians, or even social media “influencers.”

People love to see others succeed.

Some people also enjoy watching them fail.

As an estate planning attorney, I take no pleasure in the consequences of flawed estate planning by celebrities.

These mistakes can be costly emotionally, relationally, and financially.

According to a recent Forbes article titled “Lessons From The Rich And Famous: Why Estate Planning Should Be Part Of Your Retirement Plan.,” we can learn from these sad situations.

Who are some of these unfortunate celebrities with something to teach us?

Celebrities are often known for poor estate planning.
Many celebrities like the musician Prince are notorious for poor estate planning.


Prince went by many names during his lifetime and was known for his musical talent.

Unfortunately, his name is also now associated with poor estate planning.

Prince was quite wealthy, but his lack of planning before his sudden death reduced the size of his estate through taxes, legal battles, and lengthy probate.

Aretha Franklin

Unlike Prince, Aretha Franklin had created a last will and testament before she died.

The problem?

Not one, but three last wills were discovered.

Curiously, one of them was even found tucked under a couch cushion.

With four adult sons, to include one with special needs, the settlement of her estate and distribution of assets became complicated.

Matters were made worse when the executor resigned as a result of accusations of gross mismanagement.

These and other issues mean her estate settlement will be expensive and lengthy.

Tony Hsieh

The former CEO of Zappos died in November.

Similar to other celebrities, Hsieh left a multimillion dollar estate with no direction regarding what was to become of it.

This left loved ones to file with the court to have family members appointed as executors for the estimated $840 million estate.

This is necessary for them to be able to protect and access his assets.

Celebrities have also underscored the importance of having an estate plan appropriate to your situation.

Simply having a plan does not guarantee an efficient estate settlement.

In fact, several celebrities had insufficient estate plans.

Tom Petty

When the singer died at age 66, he had an estate plan in place.

He appointed his widow as the sole trustee for his estate.

Although he shared his desire to have his daughter provide input to his wife on the management of the estate, his wife and daughter still had public battles over the estate.

Things were eventually settled, but preparing for potential power struggles would have benefitted his estate.

Alan Thicke

Although Thicke died unexpectedly, he created a trust and named his sons as co-trustees.

Apparently, he overlooked how this would trigger conflicts between is widow and his sons.

As a result, a public contest ensued.

Despite these examples of failed estate planning by celebrities, some have managed to protect assets and provide for loved ones.

Sam Walton

This founder of Wal-Mart incorporated grantor retained annuity trusts and other tools to minimize gift taxes and estate taxes.

This planning allows the wealth to grow through future generations.

Steve Jobs and Burt Reynolds

These two men were in the news often during their lifetimes.

When they died, there was little about them in the news except the legacies they left in their careers.


They prepared appropriate estate plans and were able to care for their loved ones well and settled their estates quietly.

Learn from the mistakes and successes of these celebrities and work with an experienced estate planning attorney to create a plan to meet your needs and address your specific family circumstances.

Reference: Forbes (Dec. 11, 2020) “Lessons From The Rich And Famous: Why Estate Planning Should Be Part Of Your Retirement Plan”

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