Many families have resolved to get an estate plan in place, or reviewing an older, existing one. This should be high on everyone’s list. Yet, many still won’t find time to get around to it this year. This year, how about a celebrity’s estate planning tragedy, that is all too common, to help encourage you…
Jim Morrison, the late lead singer of The Doors, died in 1971 at age 27. Before his death he had signed a simple, one-page Will that left everything to his girlfriend, Pamela Courson (or if she died before he did, to his brother and sister).As a result of the Will, Courson inherited his entire estate when he passed. Unfortunately, Courson, herself, died shortly afterward. Because Courson didn’t have a Will, most of Morrison’s fortune then went — by law — to Courson’s closest living relatives: her parents.
Now, Pamela’s father was a former Navy officer and a high school principal in conservative Orange County, California. He probably never imagined that he would spend decades collecting millions of dollars in rock-and-roll royalties, or that he would have artistic control over a counterculture legend’s poetry and a major say in how Morrison was portrayed in movies, such as The Doors. It’s probably safe to assume that Morrison didn’t anticipate this either and it probably wasn’t exactly what he had in mind.
Morrison could easily have avoided this unintended result by setting up a trust that would have cared for Pamela, but that would have directed his fortune to his own family if something happened to her, and put someone he knew and trusted in charge of his artistic legacy.
How is all this relevant to common folk who aren’t rock stars? The truth is, many people sign simple or “form” Wills, sometimes out of a book, from the Internet, or drafted by an inexperienced, general practice attorney. They make a similar and tragic mistake.
This is why it’s essential to talk to an experienced estate planning attorney about your wishes. A good estate plan considers all the “what-ifs,” and will make sure you accomplish your objectives, even if something you didn’t anticipate happens along the way.