Don’t Miss a Beat: What Happens When Celebrities Fail to Plan Their Estates

Do you have a will in place? Are you among the two-thirds of Americans who have not drafted a legal document to outline how your property and other important items should be distributed? If so, sadly, you’re among many legends within the country. Having a will in place will save your family from court costs, stress from being in court, possibly for several years and the embarrassment of public knowledge — if you’re a celebrated celebrity, you’d be remembered for the courthouse fight your family endured as they tried to secure your property from the hands of a spouse! Read on to see how three celebrities were affected by not having their estates planned by an attorney.


Billie Holiday

Once regarded by Frank Sinatra as “the greatest single musical influence…” and “…unquestionably the most important influence on American popular singing

Billie Holiday died in July 1959 — at age 44 — she died with $750.00 on her and nothing more. No will nor anything else to provide for her loved ones. All she had was Louis McKay, Billie’s husband, an abusive man she’d separated from before her death. But since they were still married at her time of death, all royalties and the remainder of Billie’s estate went to McKay (and eventually to his new wife, Bernice).

Billie Holiday died intestate — without a formal arrangement to ensure that her earnings and property would go where she’d want them to go. The probate court —  a court that handles and awards the property and debts of the deceased — awarded Louis McKay what seemed rightfully his since he was the sole heir of Billie’s estate as her husband (though separated). When McKay died, his wife at the time, Bernice, was awarded one-third of the estate. By that time, Billie’s estate was valued at nearly $1,000,000 and earned over $120,000 per year.

A New York probate court ruled that Bernice, a woman that Billie never even met, should be awarded a one-third share of “McKay’s” estate – property that was earned by Billie as a result of her illustrious singing career.

James Brown

Christmas Day would not be the same for the family and friends of the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, who passed away in 2006. But, the passing of the rock and roll legend is not the only reason his family is left in sadness and frustration. James’ estate — including his catalog of hits — is still making news, 13 years after his death.

While James Brown did have a will, it was created before he remarried his fourth wife, Tomi Rae Hynie.  Although Ms. Hynie was not mentioned in James’ will, a probate court in South Carolina awarded her James’ estate, citing Tomi as the surviving spouse on record. Today, James’ children from his previous marriages are still fighting for what they believe is their share of the estate — the case is now in a federal court.

Although a will was prepared, it was not updated as James’ family grew as a result of his many nuptials. And now there is chaos.


While fans are still mourning the untimely death of Prince, his multiple siblings remain in a courtroom battle three years after the entertainer’s 2016 passing. Prince died without a will and now his family is left to fight with banks, lawyers and even the IRS over Prince’s estate.  Unfortunately, because there is no will, the state of Minnesota, Prince’s birthplace, has legal rights to much of the estate. Additionally, his loved ones have little say-so as it pertains to the amount of money anyone — if applicable — is entitled to. Reportedly, this uncertainty is leading to the mishandling of Prince’s funds.

Not having a will (or failing to update a prepared will) can lead to additional stress years beyond death. The humiliation of having personal business on the internet, the thought of having the government take ownership of your estate and the added burden your family will face should warrant anyone, regardless of financial or social status, to consult an estate planning attorney and prepare a plan that clearly describes your wishes before an untimely death. Contact TGQ Law today and let’s plan!

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