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For the younger generation, a Last Will and Testament might only be something you’ve seen in movies and TV. The truth is, however, it’s actually an incredibly important legal document that anyone – of any age, with any kind of possessions – should have prepared and tucked away just in case.
According to an estate-planning survey by Harris Poll, 64 percent of Americans don’t currently have an active Will, or list of instructions for how to care for their estate (which, in this case, constitutes property and possessions owned by the person in question) after their passing.
To find this alarming would be the proper response, as lack of any Last Will and Testament can lead to disputes and legal battles between family members, should your estate be large and valuable enough.
To better drive this point home, let’s take a look at a few celebrities who, after their untimely deaths, stirred up a commotion based on some aspect of their last will.
5 Celebrity Wills That Were Contested
1) Jimi Hendrix
After this music legend’s unexpected passing at age 27, without a will, the battle over his estate spread over a staggering 34 years. And while several of the disputes occurred between a number of music labels surrounding his works and royalty rights, most of his private business was kept inside the family.
His father, Al Hendrix, eventually won the right to his late son’s music. When he himself eventually passed away and in turn, left everything to his step-daughter, Janie, war broke out between the two family strains. Jimi’s brother believed he was being purposefully disregarded, and accused Janie of manipulating Al into making her the main receiver of the estate.
With $80 million at stake, the family battled tooth and nail for what they believed to be their right to what remained of Jimi’s legacy. Eventually, the judge overseeing the entire debacle found Janie innocent of any form of manipulation, and the trial was put to rest.
2) Patrick Swayze
Nothing is simple when it comes to celebrity wills. There is more to simply NOT having a will at all, as with the case of the late Patrick Swayze. Accusations flew that his final Will had been forged with a fake signature.
While a handwriting expert examined the signature and determined it didn’t match Swayze’s, his family also claims that at the time of the new, “surprise” will, Swayze was being hospitalized for his fight against pancreatic cancer and was too unwell to even consider drafting up a new Will.
In the new Will, his mother, as well as other family members previously included in the original, were cut out as beneficiaries. They were replaced instead by his widow – and her brother.
This is an example of the necessity of a notarized will. Although it’s possible in several states to draft the will on your own accord without the presence of a lawyer, in many cases, it may be more desirable to have a lawyer present as a witness.
Then, should something go awry upon your passing, there will be more than only the words of your family or friends to fall back on.
3) Philip Seymour Hoffman
After the actor passed away at 46 from a drug overdose, according to his Last Will and Testament, everything he owned was to be left to his longtime partner, Mimi O’Donnell.
Why is this an issue among the many contested celebrity wills, you ask?
Well, for most, it certainly isn’t. But for others, questions arose as to WHY none of his estate was willed to any of his three children. There was reason behind his intentions, however. Such a reason is actually a common occurrence among the wealthy, who share certain beliefs about willing their riches to their children after they pass.
According to NBC in a survey conducted by Withers LLP and Scorpio Partnership: “…3,000 families around the world [were asked] about their greatest fears regarding their wealth and family future. Among families worth $10 million or more, health was their biggest fear. But ranking second was, ‘My children will lack the drive and ambition to get ahead.’”
So while this is NOT a battle for the estate in itself, it certainly opens doors to the possibilities in other situations, particularly those where a wealthy person’s children might not exactly agree with this ideology.
4) Robin Williams
In a case of the opposite happening, where the children are set to inherit the majority of a deceased person’s estate, the spouses are in turn left out of what they may see as their right to a cut.
In terms of Robin Williams’ widow, Susan Schneider Williams, she believed she was “not receiving enough money from the actor’s estate to maintain the Tiburon, California home she shared with him before his death.” According to the late actor’s final Will, his children were listed as beneficiaries for the majority of his fortune, estimated at over $100 million.
While this particular court battle ended peacefully with both parties, this may not always be the case. As we saw in Patrick Swayze’s estate battle, and particularly in those surrounding other celebrity wills, back-biting and double-crossing seems to be a common occurrence.
5) Joan Rivers
Known for her matter-of-fact fashion advice and comedic upbringing, after her unexpected death at age 81, a lengthy trial took place when her daughter and executrix, Melissa Rivers, sued the health center conducting Joan’s outpatient surgery for malpractice.
After the actress went into cardiac arrest and later had to be put on life support, it was because of her living Will that Melissa was able to make the tough call to remove her mother from life support.
The difference between a Living Will and a Last Will and testament is simply this: in a living will, the person lays out their wishes should they be put on life support, or otherwise cannot make decisions in terms of their own well-being. A Last Will and Testament, then, is only put into action after the person has passed away.
As shown with Joan Rivers’ example, a Living Will can save your family and friends the trouble and heartache of having to make the choice themselves of whether to leave you on life support (or remove you from it), should something happen.
It gives them the peace of mind to know that you yourself have already made YOUR decision, and it’s only up to them to carry that out.
While death is an unfortunate fact of life, there are steps that can be taken to ease the transition for your family members and other loved ones. Even if you are only graduating college, working a low-wage job, or buying your first house, it is important that you have a Will drafted up as soon as you can.
Even so, if you do not have much of an estate to split between loved ones, a Living Will is crucial should something unexpectedly happen to you. If they do not know what you would want in that scenario, they will be tasked with making the decisions themselves.
For a family already feeling the emotional strain of your situation, to put this burden on them is unimaginable. Learn from these contested celebrity wills to avoid the same fate.