10 min read

Iconic stars who died without a will

From soap operas, to Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, a family squabbling over a disputed will seems to be a story that crops up time and time again. Interestingly, it’s more common for people not to have a will than it is to have one.

This week is Protection Awareness Week – a campaign to help financial advisers better educate customers about the need for adequate protection. In light of this and to highlight the stark reality of dying without a will, we’ve explored some fascinating stories of well-known celebrities whose legacies were left in limbo.

Stieg Larrson

Swedish author of ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ trilogy who ironically became famous after his death, left behind a particularly controversial legacy. Despite living with his partner for 32 years, Swedish law meant that the proceeds defaulted to his father and brother because they never married. His partner Eva Garbielsson received nothing, although the family did grant her ownership of the couple’s apartment.

Barry White

Even though Barry White did write a will, he failed to update it before he died of kidney failure – which proved to be very unfortunate for his long-term lover, Katherine Denton. Whilst he had been separated from his second wife, Glodean James, for many years, they had never actually divorced. Disputes arose when Katherine tried to claim a share of the millionaire’s estate after giving birth to their daughter four weeks before Barry’s death. However, White’s family called for a paternity test which revealed that the child wasn’t his. Consequently, Katherine Denton received nothing.

Jimi Hendrix

Despite the fact that Jimi Hendrix died in 1970, court battles over his estate have lingered on for more than 30 years. These complications have occurred as a result of the musician’s estate continuing to generate money long after his death. When Jimi died aged 27, his estate was managed by a California attorney. Jimi’s father sued for the rights to Jimi’s music twenty years later and won the case. Further problems arose when Jimi’s father died and left the $80 million estate to his adopted daughter. To make matters even more complex, Jimi’s brother alleged that Jimi’s daughter manipulated her father into writing him and his children out of the will and sued to be written back in. Beneficiaries also made claims that they received nothing and alleged that Jimi’s daughter and cousin grossly mismanaged the funds. In the end, the court handed down small victories to both sides.

Bob Marley

Sadly the events surrounding Bob Marley’s estate don’t concur with his musical legacy, with his estate triggering numerous family feuds and lawsuits over the years. The fact that Bob Marley had six children by different mothers and three by his wife certainly hasn’t helped matters, and dozens of his family members have tried to claim a piece of his fortune. Marley left inheritance worth $30 million, although the value has been said to have ballooned over time, with intellectual property and his various business ventures producing further millions.

Why is having a will so important?

Not writing a will can break families apart, but it can also make people you don’t know millionaires. Take Prince Charles for example (although a millionaire already) – under the law he is entitled to the estates of people who die without a will in Cornwall. This has brought him more than £1million over the years, although he has donated the funds to charities.

So let’s cut to the chase, why is having a will so important? If you kick the bucket without leaving a legally valid will, your estate will be divided up according to the law of intestacy, so there’s no control over who gets what. This could ultimately result in your belongings landing in the hands of the wrong people. No matter how old you are, the message is clear. If you want to avoid creating heartache, and ensure that your estate is divided in accordance with your wishes, you must have a legally valid will drawn up.

Note: Whilst we take care to ensure Talking Finance content is accurate at the time of publication, individual circumstances can differ so please don’t rely on it when making financial decisions.