Famous People Who Died Without a Will

What do Picasso, Jimi Hendrix, Michael Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, and “Sonny” Bono all have in common? You’re probably thinking, not much. But they do, in fact, have one big thing in common. They all died intestate—which means they died without having a will. 

Here are just a few famous people who died without wills and what happened to their estates.

 

Jimi Hendrix

Seattle native Jimi Hendrix died in 1970, the battle over his estate raged on for more than 30 years for one simple reason: Hendrix left no will regarding the distribution of his estate.

 

Bob Marley

Like Hendrix, Bob Marley died intestate even though he knew he had cancer and lingered for nearly eight months. His estate, worth a reported $30 million, had dozens of claimants.

 

Salvatore Phillip “Sonny” Bono

Granted, Sonny Bono “the politician” died an untimely death in a skiing accident in 1998, but why he died without a will is something we’ll never know. Instead of staying at home to grieve, his widow Mary Bono headed to the courthouse to be appointed the estate’s administrator. Ex-wife Cher showed up on the scene as a claimant in Bono’s estate and a “love child” surfaced soon after that, making the situation even more difficult.

 

Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso died in 1973 at the age of 91, leaving behind a fortune in assets that included artwork, five homes, cash, gold and bonds. Because Picasso died intestate and left no will, it took six years to settle his estate at a cost of $30 million. His assets were eventually divided up among six heirs.

 

Michael Jackson

Although a will was later discovered, immediately following Michael Jackson’s death in July 2009, his mother filed court papers claiming that Jackson died intestate.  Filing intestate could have been avoided if Michael had shared the location where he kept his will with his executor or discussed his estate plan with his family. 

 

Howard Hughes

Howard Hughes was an eccentric billionaire who died in 1976 at the age of 70. When he died, his will was discovered at the Mormon Church’s headquarters in Salt Lake City. However, the will was proved to be a forgery in a Nevada court and his estate was divided among his 22 cousins.

 

Aretha Franklin

Because Franklin left no will or trust to manage her assets after her death, the short answer is that her four sons will split her estate, experts say.  Of course, creditors will have the chance to make claims on the estate, and Franklin had a history of bad debts. If other celebrity estates are any guide, shirt-tail relatives and long-lost friends could appear looking for a payout.

 

Prince

The singer died April 21, 2016, and in the absence of his will, scores of claimants emerged, claiming to be his previously-unknown wife, child, sibling or distant relative. After months of legal drama, the Minnesota probate judge overseeing the late Prince’s estate that Prince did in fact die without a will, and that his sister, Tyka Nelson, and five half-siblings are the heirs to the multiple millions of dollars he left behind.

 

Chadwick Boseman

Boseman, who died Aug. 28 after a four-year battle with colon cancer, died without a will.  It is too soon to know what will happen to estate worth an estimated value of $938,500.

 

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln, the nation’s 16th president, has the distinction of being the first president to be assassinated (1865) as well as the first president to die without a will—despite being a lawyer himself.

 

Famous or not, everyone should have a will. It’s simple to do, and it saves your family a lot of money and headaches. And, as illustrated by the stories above, you’re never too young—or too smart or too powerful—to have a will.

 

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