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Celebrities Who Died Without Wills


Last week, many newspapers told the tale of Rik Mayall, pioneer of alternative English comedy, actor and writer, being the latest in a long line of celebrities who have died without a Will.

Rik Mayall died on the 9th June last year (2014) aged just 56. He left behind his wife, Barbara Robbin and three children. As he didn’t have a Will, some of his estate which would otherwise have been inherited by his wife, will now be inherited by his children.

Now, some might say that this is a good thing, however, because monies passed between spouses attract no Inheritance Tax (IHT), provisions could have been made within a Will to have ensured the children received some money, and yet, avoided the IHT bill which his family now face.

Celebrities without a Will

And Mr Mayall is not alone. Many others have not made a Will

Jimi Hendrix died on September 18, 1970, without a Will. His shady manager and a manipulative lawyer began the arguments over Jimi’s estate and even when one law suit ended another began – they continued throughout the years.

Barry White died in 2003 at only 58 years old. He left two ex-wives, both claiming they should gain the largest share of his money, an ex-girlfriend who had just given birth to Barry’s ninth child – although the paternity was disputed – a further eight children and a very large estate. What he didn’t leave, was a Will.

Heath Ledger did have a Will, however, he hadn’t updated it and his daughter Matilda, having been born after the Will was written, did not inherit.

Bob Marley had both adopted and biological children with several partners when he died on 11thMay 1981. His children number 11, with, at least, another three ‘unofficial’ children. His $30m estate was bitterly fought over causing long-lasting family feuds.

Jill Dando died without leaving a will, so the Intestacy Rules (The legal set of rules which dictate who will receive your estate if you do not have a Will in place) prevailed. The rules dictated that everything Jill owned (£607k after debts and taxation) went to her father. Her fiancé, Alan Farthing, received nothing.

Amy Winehouse did not have a Will when she died. The Intestacy Rules prevailed again and her parents, Mitch and Janis, received the entire £3m estate. Her brother did not inherit and her ex-husband was also left with nothing, even though they did not consider their relationship over.

Salvatore Phillip “Sonny” Bono died on January 5, 1998 after hitting a tree in a skiing accident. He was survived by his mother, Jean, his wife, Mary, and children, Christy, Chianna, Chesare and Chastity. But he didn’t have a Will. Claimants to his $1.7 million estate included his ex-wife, Cher and a ‘love child’, Sean Machu.

Stieg Larsson authored ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ among others, died in 2004 of a heart attack after climbing seven flights of stairs due to an out-of-order elevator. He had been with his partner, Eva Gabrielsson, for 32 years. They had thought about marriage but due to some political reasons had not been able to wed. They were soul mates and that seemed to be enough. Not for Swedish law though. Larsson left no valid will so his estate, including all publication and film rights to his novels, passed to his father Erland and brother Joakim – Eva received nothing. This was Swedish law, not English law, however, under the Intestacy Rules the result would be the same.

Pablo Picasso died on 8th April, 1973 at the age of 91. He left behind a fortune which included five houses, cash, gold artwork and more. He was a revolutionary painter and lived a Bohemian-style life being married twice and having four children by three women.  His second wife, Jacqueline Roque, prevented two of his children from attending their father’s funeral. Both she and one of his mistresses, Marie-Thérèse Walter, killed themselves in the years following Picasso’s death. But, Picasso died intestate and it took 6 years to settle his estate at a cost of $30 million.

Paul Shane was the comedian in the hit series ‘Hi-De-Hi!’. When he died in May 2013, he did not leave a Will.  His was 72 and his wife had already died, so the Intestacy Rules determined that his £92k estate was shared between his three daughters equally. This may be what he would have wanted, however, this does not take into account any smaller gifts of articles that he may have wished to make, or any gifts to charity. More importantly, the Intestacy Rules will divide the estate equally and it might be that one of the daughters had received more from her father while he was alive than had the others. Or one daughter may have been less financially well-off and her father might have wished to give her a little extra – none of these things can be achieved if the Intestacy Rules are relied upon.

John Denver was killed in an airplane crash in Pacific Grove, California on Sunday October 12, 1997. He did not leave a Will. A court appointed his first ex-wife, Annie Martell Deutschendorf to administer his estate, and she divided the assets equally between his three children (2 who were adopted by her and John and Jesse Belle who was his biological daughter with his second wife). Denver had also left trust funds for his parents, children and Annie. The problem here was that, without the estate planning within a valid Will, the estate was heavily taxed and the sorting out of his estate therefore took years to go through the courts.

Peter Brock “The King of the Mountain”Australia’s late, great motor racing driver died on September 8, 2006. He had written a Will but had refused to see a professional, and had written the Will himself. Because he had written a Will, his wishes were clearly known, however, the DIY Will was not validly drawn up so did not stand. His estate was eventually distributed in a way that greatly differed from the Will that he had written.

Robert Burns, Scotland’s great poet, died at the age of 37 in 1796. He and his wife, Jean had four children and Burns had another daughter with a maid. He did not leave a Will so the courts decided how his estate should be divided. Records at the Dumfries Commissary Court show that his mother received a regular payment from the estate until her death and his children were cared for apart from his illegitimate daughter who was only given “room, board, and washing” for one year.

Michael Crichton, the author of Jurassic Park did leave a Will, however, he didn’t update it when his wife became pregnant. So, like Heath Ledger’s daughter, Crichton’s unborn child was completely cut out. In the English courts, there is a way that a claim by the mother of the child could be made under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependents) Act 1975, however, this will, obviously, cost money and causes stress and considerable upset for those left behind.

Kurt Cobain, the lead singer of Seattle group, Nirvana, died aged 27 in 1994. He left a suicide note – but not a Will. His daughter, Frances Bean, was only sixteen months old. The lack of estate planning over Kurt’s image rights, publishing and performance royalties, and his licensing rights (currently valued at $450m) continued for years!

Why Don’t They?

If these celebs had been nominated for a prestigious award where they were to be the centre of the world’s stage, it is highly unlikely that they would be happy to attend in a ‘one-size-fits-all’ outfit (even if it was just a pair of jeans), however, they are happy to leave their estate to the intestacy rules, which are, in fact, a one-size fits-all approach to a person’s wealth and possessions and which can have terrible circumstances for loved ones.

It’s hard to understand why these celebrities don’t make or update a valid Will.

Why Don’t You?

Reasons why people don’t have a Will are given as;

  • It’s too expensive

  • They have nothing of value to leave

  • Mistaken ideas about what would happen if they didn’t have a Will

  • They didn’t get around to it

But it isn’t too expensive if you think about the legal costs (which will come out of your estate anyway) and the stress caused to those you love. Even if you don’t have anything of value (and don’t have minor children, of course), just naming Executors can save more money than the cost of the Will, plus you are not leaving your family with any stress in sorting it all out.

If you don’t know what happens – and even newspapers get it entirely wrong – why not give us a call on: 020 8920 3360 and we will be glad to chat through your options with you. Or, you can email us at: or visit our website:

We look forward to hearing from you.

Adele JamesonComment