Estate Planning: Three Lessons From Dead Celebrities

By John O’Grady, O’Grady Law Group

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Amy Winehouse

In 2011, pop diva Amy Winehouse joined the list of musicians who died at 27, which includes rock icons Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison.

Like Winehouse, Joplin and Morrison were drug addicts and appear to have died of overdoses. Unlike Winehouse, both Joplin and Morrison had written wills, despite their young age.

Joplin’s will divided her estate among her parents and siblings. Without the will, her estate would have passed to her parents alone, leaving her brother and sister out.

Morrison’s will didn’t save his estate from controversy. He left everything to his long-term girlfriend, Pamela Courson. When she died three years after him, in 1974, Morrison’s family contested the will. The California courts found the will to be valid and recognized Courson as Morrison’s common law wife under Colorado law. To this day, a Courson family member remains executor of the Morrison estate.
Whether Winehouse’s estate, which went to her parents, was distributed as she would have wanted remains a mystery because she did not leave a will or trust.

Life is messy and unpredictable, even if you are neither a celebrity nor a drug addict. A thoughtfully updated estate plan is the finest gift you can give yourself and your loved ones.

About the author:

John O‘Grady, O’Grady Law Group, was the 2012 chair of BASF’s Estate Planning, Trust & Probate Section.