Celebrity Estate Planning Blunders

Prominent figures such as musicians, athletes, and actors have many talents and characteristics that are to be admired and enjoyed. There is no better live singer than Gwen Stefani. Witnessing Aaron Rodgers throw a perfect pass at legendary Lambeau Field is awe-inspiring. Tina Fey’s wit and dry sense of humor is insightful. However, many celebrities do not make the best decisions with respect to their estate planning. As William Shakespeare famously said, “past is prologue.” Do not repeat these celebrity estate planning blunders!

Marilyn Monroe

Actress Marilyn Monroe took the time to draft a will, but she did not put enough effort into her planning to make her wishes legally binding. She left the bulk of her estate to her acting coach with the “hope” that he would donate it to charity. Her acting coach never did donate her estate to charity and later married a woman whom Marilyn never met. Upon his death in the early 1980s, he left Marilyn’s estate to his wife who some estimate earned more than $30 million over the years from Marilyn’s image. If Marilyn had simply taken the time to draft a comprehensive trust, this colossal mistake would have been avoided. (Source: Insurance News Net.)

Amy Winehouse

Singer Amy Winehouse died “intestate,” meaning that she did not leave any estate planning document. At the time of her death, she was divorced however most of her friends, family members, and acquaintances confirm that she was still very close to her ex-husband and still viewed him as her “soul mate.” Because she did not take control of her estate by creating a will or a trust, her estate passed by law to her “natural heirs” as determined by law which did not include her ex-husband. If she had simply drafted a will or a trust, her estate would have passed to the person of her choice rather than leaving it up to the default rules of the legislature. (Source: Insurance News Net.)

Heath Ledger

Actor Heath Ledger executed a will three years before he died. However, the will pre-dated his relationship with actress Michele Williams with whom he had a daughter. As a result, legally his estate passed to his parents per the terms of his will instead of to his daughter. Luckily his parents agreed to take care of their granddaughter financially but the anecdote demonstrates the importance of making sure that one’s estate plan is up-to-date. (Source: Forbes.)

Ted Williams

Baseball great Ted Williams died with an estate plan that stated he wished to be cremated. However, two of his children from a second marriage produced a handwritten document that stated he wished that his body be cryogenically frozen. It was unclear whether the handwritten document was really written by Ted or whether he had sufficient capacity to make such a change to his wishes with regard to the disposition of his remains. Sometimes people think that it is “easy” to amend their estate plans on their own but this case demonstrates the importance of formally making changes with the aid and guidance of a qualified attorney. (Source: Forbes.)

Elvis Presley

Due to a lack of proper planning, singer Elvis Presley’s estate was reduced by a whopping 73% due to probate fees, settlement costs, and avoidable taxes. His case is often cited as an example of why avoiding probate and addressing estate tax planning by utilizing a revocable living trust can be crucial to protecting one’s hard-earned assets from being lost unnecessarily. (Source: Asset Protection Wealth Management.)

Chief Justice Warren Burger

Former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger took the law into his own hands by typing up his own will. However, the Justice made several key mistakes including subjecting his estate to probate and neglecting to give his executor the power to sell real estate without court approval. As a result, his family paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes and fees that could have been avoided by a properly drafted estate plan. This demonstrates that even brilliant legal minds can make major estate planning mistakes if they are not proficient in the highly specialized practice area of estate planning.


No matter how much talent, intelligence, money, or fame a person might have, failure to take the time and effort to plan your estate properly will lead to unintended consequences that could have a dire impact on your loved ones. Learn from these bad examples and be sure to properly address your estate planning.