Celebrity Legacies
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About Celebrity Legacies

Can someone actually become wealthier after they die? In this revealing hour-long factual series viewers will find out how rich the famous actually were when they died and the surprising fortunes being made years after they’re gone. Celebrity Legacies gives the full story on who tried to lay claim to the inheritance and who finally got it. Plus, which celebrities lived lavishly but passed on penniless and who inherited their debts? Celebrity Legacies also looks at how some celebrity’s fortunes have grown since they passed and how some are still making the highest-paid lists years after their death. Celebrity Legacies will explore the stories and estates of Whitney Houston, James Gandolfini, John F. Kennedy Jr., Marilyn Monroe, Heath Ledger among others.

Anna Nicole Smith was a beautiful, troubled woman who died far too young, but she had an indomitable spirit. From her days of fame and fortune to her days of infamy and bankruptcy, she was always candid, funny, and true to herself. Here's a list of 17 of the things we loved most about Anna.Before she made it big, Anna Nicole (then Vicky Lynn Hogan) worked as a Chicken Slinger at Jim’s Krispy Fried Chicken in Mexia, Texas. We just can’t help but love anyone who worked at a fried chicken joint before making millions.She was declared Playmate of the Year in 1993, the same year that ushered in the ultra skinny  “heroin chic” look. We prefer Anna’s curves.Anna Nicole reportedly demanded that she have Godiva Chocolates at all of her Guess shoots. A model who loved fried chicken and chocolate? What's not to love?She was a curvy model who loved to eat, but she was so gorgeous that nobody ever dared to call her plus size.Later she was a plus-sized girl working for a plus-sized clothing brand, but she never acted ashamed of her size.In 1994, she married a billionaire oil tycoon who was more than  60 years her senior, but it's not as bad as it sounds. Anna Nicole signed her contract with Guess in 1992, which means she didn’t take J. Howard Marshall up on his repeated offers of marriage until after she was an established model making her own money.Her relationship with her billionaire husband seemed really very sweet — despite its peculiar parent/child vibe.Her relationship with her quasi-third-husband/ lawyer, who she sort-of married in 2006, seemed very sweet — despite its peculiar parent/child vibe.Anna Nicole Smith starred in The Naked Gun 33 1/3 in 1994, and her performance was nothing less than inspired.From 2002 to 2004 Anna starred in The Anna Nicole Show, and it had what very well might have been the best reality-show theme song ever.We loved Anna’s childlike sensibilities. Only Anna Nicole would try tubs on for size when going house hunting.She was always there for family members no matter how many (or how few) teeth they had — until they start talking mess.After her husband died, Anna never stopped fighting for the inheritance that was rightfully hers. She fought all the way to the supreme court.She really knew how to do christmas right. Anna Nicole’s NSFW holiday parties involved decking the halls, trimming the tree, singing carols, roasting a turkey, making out with Margaret Cho and doing shots out of an ice sculpture sculpted to look like her own breasts.For at least half the population, the two most beloved things about Anna Nicole are Left and Right.And finally the thing we probably loved most about Anna was her sense of humor. She didn’t ever seem to care if people were laughing at her, probably because she was in on the joke.

Danielle and Andy Mayoras are co-authors of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! and featured on-camera contributors to Celebrity Legacies.  Check out their in-depth look into the battle over Tupac Shakur's estate.

Tupac Shakur was well-known for his "Thug" image, his rap prowess, and his many conflicts — leading up to the tragic shooting that took his life at age 25.  So should anyone be surprised at the high number of legal battles involving his estate?  Or that Shakur could continue to be a pioneer in rap music, even years after his death?

Tupac Shakur came to fame in large part due to his battles with police, inspiring lyrics in his first solo release so violent that Dan Quayle publicly denounced them — building Shakur's "Thug" image in the process.  In the same time frame, he was arrested five times for violent crimes, leading to numerous criminal charges and civil lawsuits, culminating in a confrontation during which he was shot multiple times.  The very next day, Tupac was sentenced to prison for molestation.

Lawsuits and conflicts continued to plague him throughout his career, until he was shot and killed in 1996.  Yet his rap music career flourished, in large part through the help of record label Death Row.  As a result, despite the many legal troubles, his estate was valued at $40 to $50 million and his albums sold more than 75 million copies worldwide.

So, predictably, his estate spawned countless lawsuits, including a feud over royalties with Death Row — which claimed his estate owed millions back to it despite more than $70 million worth of album sales — dozens of creditors, and even an estate battle between his mother and his absentee father.

Shakur's father last saw him as a child when he was only five years old and re-entered his life, after Tupac became famous, a few years before his death.  Despite not knowing Tupac for most of his life, the elder Shakur sued for half of the estate.

Tupac never created a will and he died intestate.  This means that his parents, under California law, would equally split his assets.  But Tupac's mother initially claimed that the father had died.  When DNA testing proved that to be untrue, the case went to trial about whether the father had done enough to support and spend time with his son.

The evidence at trial showed that the only documented support the father provided was $820, a bag of peanuts, and a ticket to "Rollerball."  Under California law, a father who was not married to the mother can only inherit as an intestate heir if he had a substantial relationship with the child and provided monetary support.

With little more than DNA to support his claim, Tupac's father lost the trial.  The judge, not surprisingly, felt that the relationship and support were not substantial enough to treat the father as an heir.  The lawyer for Tupac's mother applauded the ruling as a victory against "dead-beat dads."  The father's attorney vowed to appeal.

Reportedly, before the appeal, a settlement was reached to buy the father's interest out for about $900,000.  But the deal was struck only when Shakur's father agreed to forgo all rights to use Tupac's name or likeness.  Those rights were not governed by the same California state law that was designed to stop a "dead-beat dad" from inheriting assets through an estate with no will.

The release of image rights was an important part of the deal.  In fact, the surprise — and ground-breaking — appearance by a 3-D Tupac Shakur hologram to perform on stage at Coachella in 2012 might never have happened if Tupac's father could have withheld consent.  Because Tupac's mother was in favor of the hologram (in exchange for a donation to Tupac's charitable foundation), Shakur became a trail-blazer as the first deceased performer to appear on stage as a hologram.

While many of the battles involving Tupac Shakur's estate could not have been prevented, the biggest one was easily avoidable.  If Tupac had simply created a will — even a hand-written one — then his mother would not have had to battle his "deadbeat dad" for a share of the Estate.

It's a good lesson not to procrastinate with estate planning.  Anyone with assets of significance -- even 25-year-old rappers -- should start with at least a basic will so that the loved ones they want can receive their assets.

For the latest celebrity and high-profile cases, with tips to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your clients, click to subscribe to "The Trial & Heirs Update".  You can “like” the Mayoras on Facebook and follow them on Twitter and Google+.


Danielle and Andy Mayoras are co-authors of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! and featured on-camera contributors to Celebrity Legacies.  Check out their in-depth look into the battle over Dennis Hopper's estate.

When is a divorce more than just a divorce?  When famed actor Dennis Hopper battled through an ugly divorce against his fifth wife, Victoria Duffy-Hopper, the battle was more about Dennis Hopper's estate than anything else.  So perhaps no one should be surprised that the war turned uglier once Dennis died.

The Easy Rider star had anything but an easy ride during the last few months of his life.  He passed away from cancer at age 73, smack-dab in the middle of his divorce war with Victoria, who was actually six years younger than Dennis Hopper's oldest daughter.

Dennis had filed for divorce, accusing Victoria of being insane, inhuman, and volatile.  Victoria responded by claiming that Dennis was not mentally competent and that his adult children from his prior marriages had improperly influenced him to file the divorce in order to cut Victoria out of his estate, as well as the couple's six-year-old daughter.

The divorce quickly became heated, with Dennis obtaining a restraining order against Victoria, but she refused to move out of the marital home.  This was despite testimony from doctors that she created so much stress around him that Dennis repeatedly threw up his medications.

Even though Dennis died before this battle was concluded, he had already taken steps to protect his heirs and disinherit Victoria.  He had changed his life insurance beneficiary designation, removing Victoria, and he made sure she was not included in his will or trust as a beneficiary.  In fact, due to a prenuptial agreement, Victoria could receive one-quarter of Dennis Hopper's estate, but only if they were still living together and married at the time of his death.  No wonder Victoria didn't want to move out during the divorce!

Because the estate planning documents left Victoria with virtually nothing, she tried to improve her position against Dennis Hopper's estate by launching a $45 million lawsuit after he died.  She raised undue influence allegations against Dennis' children, but also claimed that Dennis had abused and wrongly forced her to sign the prenuptial agreement in the first place.

Dennis Hopper's estate counter-sued, accusing Victoria of removing artwork from Dennis Hopper's home that was said to be worth millions of dollars.  The trustees also pushed for a deposition of a man who they believed Victoria may have had an affair with, in order to challenge her claim that she and Dennis were still living together happily as man and wife.

When the dust settled after two more years of litigation between Victoria Duffy-Hopper and Dennis Hopper's estate and trust, a compromise was reached where Victoria would receive about 17% of the estate, estimated to be worth about $40 million.  While this appears to be a great deal for Victoria, the pay-out was earmarked to come out of the 40% share of the estate and trust that was already left for Victoria's young daughter with Dennis.

Because Dennis Hopper had the foresight to update his estate planning documents during his divorce proceeding with Victoria — instead of waiting for them to be over — he made sure that 60% of his estate still passed to his adult children, as he wanted, yet his minor daughter with Victoria was protected too.  This serves as a great lesson for everyone to remember to update estate plan documents promptly when important life events happen or are about to happen, such as divorces, remarriages, and new children being born.

While this fight started ugly, it quieted down quickly and most of Dennis Hopper's heirs received what he wanted them to.  Had he not proactively updated his estate planning documents, all of the heirs would have paid a much steeper price.

For the latest celebrity and high-profile cases, with tips to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your clients, click to subscribe to "The Trial & Heirs Update".  You can “like” the Mayoras on Facebook and follow them on Twitter and Google+.


Danielle and Andy Mayoras are co-authors of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! and featured on-camera contributors to Celebrity Legacies.  Check out their in-depth look into the battle over Aaron Spelling's estate.

What would it be like to grow up in a 123-room mansion in a swanky Los Angeles suburb, rubbing elbows with celebrities, and buying anything you want?  Sounds pretty great — unless it was all taken away from you as an adult.  As Tori Spelling wrote in her autobiography, it's not easy going from having a silver spoon in your mouth to a plastic one.

Aaron Spelling was one of the most successful television producers ever, masterminding such hits such as Charlie's Angles, Beverly Hills 90210, Dynasty, and The Love Boat.  When Spelling died after a severe stroke in 2006, at 83 years old, he left behind a fortune worth an estimated $500 million at the time.  He owned the largest house in all of Los Angeles County.  The home, known as the Spelling Manor, was where Aaron and his second wife, Candy, moved in the late 1980's with their children, teenage daughter Tori and son Randy.

Randy Spelling explained in a recent interview how amazing it was to live in the mansion, complete with a bowling alley, screening room, an ice rink, and three separate rooms just for wrapping presents.  He described how it was like living in a fantasy, but it left him unprepared for life as an adult when he didn't have the same financial support after his father died.  Randy said that, as a result, "I had my wings burned a little bit" before adjusting to living a normal life as an adult, in a modest home that was far different from the mansion he grew up in.

The change in lifestyle hit Tori Spelling even harder.  She almost went bankrupt and discussed on her reality TV show how she and her husband couldn't afford to pay for his vasectomy.  But Tori says the experience made her stronger, teaching her to stand on her own feet.

So why did Randy and Tori Spelling have such financial struggles after their father died?  Despite passing away with a fortune estimated in the half-billion dollar range, Aaron Spelling reportedly left about $800,000 to each of his children.  That's less .2 percent of the family fortune each!  The bulk of the estate went to their mother, Candy, but even non-family members were included in the estate plan, with $50,000 going to an interior decorator and $25,000 to a manicurist.

Complicating the matter was the fact that Tori and Candy were estranged and did not speak for years. Recently, with the birth of her four children, Tori and her mother have reconciled to a point, and Candy has set up trust funds for her grandchildren.   Yet, even in recent interviews, Tori and Candy admit that they are not close.

Reportedly, Aaron's Spelling estate plan was changed just two months before he died, which is interesting because Alzheimer's disease was listed as a contributing factor on his death certificate.  Tori Spelling said that she met with her father before he died, and he sincerely believed that $800,000 was enough for Tori to be "set for life."  She feels her father didn't appreciate the value of money, even though he had so much of it.

Despite the small inheritances left to Tori and Randy, in comparison to the size of Spelling's estate, neither Tori nor Randy filed a court action to contest the will or trust after Aaron Spelling died.  Reportedly, the estate planning documents included a "no contest" clause.  A no contest clause penalizes heirs who challenge wills and trusts in court, potentially causing them to lose their entire inheritances.  This is an estate planning tool that most experienced attorneys will use to help dissuade will and trust challenges, but it only works in certain circumstances.

Instead of fighting in court, Tori and Randy have both said they were forced to learn how to pay their own way and adapt to a much more modest lifestyle than they previously enjoyed.  Will that change when their mother, Candy, passes away?  That remains to be seen.  It's possible it won't, based on Candy's recent comments that Tori received only a small percentage of the estate because her spending habits were out-of-control.

It is unusual that Aaron Spelling left so much authority and control to his wife, especially given the estrangement between she and Tori.  Aaron named Candy as the sole trustee of his trust, which is not common with such a large fortune, as well as being the primary beneficiary.

Still, Aaron's plan certainly worked in a key respect -- it did not result in an inheritance battle in court, which occurs much more often than most people realize to families of varying levels of wealth.  With $500 million to fight over, it's a credit to Aaron Spelling that one didn't happen between his heirs.

For the latest celebrity and high-profile cases, with tips to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your clients, click to subscribe to "The Trial & Heirs Update".  You can “like” the Mayoras on Facebook and follow them on Twitter and Google+.


Danielle and Andy Mayoras are co-authors of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! and featured on-camera contributors to Celebrity Legacies.  Check out their in-depth look into the battle over Princess Diana's estate.

The iconic Princess Diana passed away over 17 years ago, following the tragic crash as Diana and Dodi Fayed sped away from paparazzi in France.  Her younger son, Harry, is perhaps the most sought-after bachelor in all of the United Kingdom.  That became even truer when Harry turned 30 a few months ago.  What was so special about Harry turning 30?  That’s the day Harry became entitled to receive the remaining half of Princess Diana’s assets.

After Diana passed on August 31, 1997, her mother, Frances Ruth Shand Kydd, and her sister, Lady Elizabeth Sarah Lavinia McCorquodale, became executors of her estate, based on Diana’s last will and testament dated June 1, 1993 (amended through a codicil in 1996).  The probate filings at the time showed that Diana left behind assets valued at around £21 million (or worth about 31.5 million in USD at the time), netting £17 million after inheritance taxes.  Originally, the will called for these assets to be held in trust for Diana’s sons, Princes William and Harry, until they turned 25.

As to her collection of personal property (called “chattels” in the will), Diana’s will directed the executors “to give effect as soon as possible but not later than two years following my death to any written memorandum or notes of wishes of mine.”  Diana wrote a Letter of Wishes, signed the day after the will, and asked that all of her jewelry and three-fourths of her chattels pass to the two Princes, with one-quarter of the rest earmarked for her 17 godchildren.  Seems straightforward, right?

Apparently Diana’s executors at the time didn’t think so.  Without notifying the parents of the godchildren (who were minors for the most part), the executors asked the probate court to allow a “variance” of the will.  They successfully obtained the variance, which included a delay of the distributions to William and Harry until they each turned 30, instead of 25 (although they were able to begin receiving interest from the trust fund at age 25).  The variance also gave all of the godchildren one item each from Diana’s Estate, rather than the one-quarter of the value of all of her personal property (aside from the jewelry), plus other changes.

The change to Princess Diana’s Letter of Wishes was done in secret and kept under wraps for several years.  Ultimately, the story broke through an unrelated court case (involving Diana’s butler and confidant). When the parents of the godchildren were told about the Letter of Wishes, they were, by and large, shocked and outraged.

Instead of receiving 25% of the personal property (each share of which would have been worth, conservatively, £100,000 or $160,000), each godchild received what was called by some a “tacky memento.”

The court permitted the executors to ignore the Letter of Wishes because it did not contain certain language required by British law, and instead used words like “discretion” and “wishes.”  This meant that, ultimately, Diana’s sister and mother were able to use their discretion whether or not to honor the letter.  But Lady Di presumably wouldn’t have written it — and directed her executors to follow such writings in her will — without good reason.

One on hand, it may appear that Princess Diana’s mother and sister were merely protecting the interests of William and Harry, by insuring they received all of Diana’s personal property, instead of three-fourths.  This may have been the case, but then why were they not given the property until this week?  Because of the court-permitted “variance”, when the distribution age was changed to 30 (from 25), it also meant that all of Diana’s belongings could be held until Harry’s 30th birthday.

The personal property involved is close to priceless and extensive.  Diana’s famed wedding dress is the centerpiece.  The collection of 150 items also includes 28 other dresses, jewelry, photographs, letters, family paintings, home movies, scores and lyrics from the “Candle in the Wind” tribute song sung by Elton John, and much more.

And here is where it gets even more interesting.  For the last 17 years, the collection was held by Earl Spencer — Diana’s brother — who “looked after” the famed wedding dress and other items until this week.  Spencer displayed the collection at Althorp, the Spencer family estate in England where Diana was raised, for two months each year.  During those months, visitors paid admission to visit Althorp, view the collection called “Diana: A Celebration”, and visit her burial site.

For the other ten months of the year, the collection traveled around the United States and other countries, on loan to different museums and similar display sites.  The Princess Diana Collection website reported that the collection raised over two million dollars (U.S.) for charities as of 2011.  The Spencer family said the proceeds were donated to a charitable fund created in Diana’s memory after she passed, named the “Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund.”

However, British media outlets reported that industry insiders place the actual revenue from the last 17 years at more than £25 million, conservatively.  And then the Diana Memorial Fund closed in 2012, but the showings continued. Earl Spencer maintains that all of the proceeds went to that Fund.

British media outlets have also speculated that Harry and William, who now own and control the collection, were not happy with the display and have put an end to it.  It is debatable how much truth is behind that report, but it is certain that the public displays of the collection controlled by Earl Spencer have now ended.

What will William and Harry do with the collection?  That of course remains to be seen. Most likely, they will not use it for income.  Each reportedly received more than £10 million on their 30th birthdays (with estimated interest and taxes applied to the reported value of the assets when Diana’s estate was opened in probate).

The more troubling questions that may never be answered (at least publicly) are:  What was the true motivation for the Spencer family in disregarding the Letter of Wishes and delaying the distributions to William and Harry?  Did they do it with revenue for Althorp in mind?  And do William and Harry approve of how it was handled?

And, perhaps most importantly, is this what Princess Diana would have wanted?

She addressed the Letter of Wishes in the will, through the provision that directed writings of that nature to be honored “as soon as possible but not later than two years” after her death. Yet, it was almost completely disregarded.  Instead, her property was put on public display over the course of 17 years, for money.

While we can only speculate on how Princess Diana may have felt about this, we can point to a clear lesson to be learned.  No one should ever rely on a letter, note, or other informal writing to pass along significant assets (whether monetary or sentimental in value).  If the wishes expressed in the Letter of Wishes had been included directly into Diana’s last will and testament, then the attorney who prepared the will could have made certain that the wishes were followed.

It is a common practice for estate planning lawyers to incorporate written lists into the estate planning documents directing how personal property is to be distributed.  For example, the person who signs the will or trust may include a dated and signed list directing who is to receive specific items.  This practice is usually fine.

But in Diana’s case, she tried to pass along one-fourth of her collection of personal property worth millions.  Items that valuable and important should be addressed directly in a will — or even better, a revocable living trust — so there is no question or confusion over what the individual wants to happen to them. And this will help insure there are no variances to their wishes later on. Letters and notes written by non-lawyers can often fail to be honored, just like Diana’s Letter of Wishes.

This is a common estate planning mistake for many people.  While it is rare that items this valuable would be effected, many times people try to change their will or direct their final wishes through a letter, note, or conversation, instead of using an experienced estate planning lawyer to prepare or update the will or trust the right way.  It’s a shortcut that often leads to conflict and fighting — and not just in royal families.

For the latest celebrity and high-profile cases, with tips to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your clients, click to subscribe to "The Trial & Heirs Update".  You can “like” the Mayoras on Facebook and follow them on Twitter and Google+.


Danielle and Andy Mayoras are co-authors of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! and featured on-camera contributors to Celebrity Legacies.  Check out their in-depth look into the battle over Marlon Brando's estate.

Unquestionably, Marlon Brando was one of the leading actors of the 20th century.  The well-known Godfather was always in firm control ... until it came to his estate that is.

Marlon Brando never followed convention.  He won his Oscar for Best Actor in 1973 for The Godfather, but Brando rejected the award as a protest to the treatment of Native Americans by the film industry.  Too bad he failed to follow the norms when it came to estate planning.

In part due to questions about his true intentions as expressed in his will and trust, Brando’s estate was involved in more than two dozens lawsuits by 2009 — five years after his death.  He passed away on July 1, 2004, at 80 years of age, suffering from a host of ailments including dementia and lung failure.

In the weeks leading up to his death, Marlon Brando was not able to leave his bedroom and was so paranoid that he wanted the room padlocked at his death so no one would steal the buttons off of his shirt.  Despite his questionable mental status, Brando was visited in his bedroom 13 days before his death and signed an amendment to his will.

The new will replaced his personal assistant of 50 years and his business manager of 40 years with new executors.  Despite accusations that Brando was not competent, and that this change to the will was a result of forgery, Brando's new executors have kept tight control over his estate, image, and legacy.

They have aggressively battled against lawsuits over his estate and have sued everyone from a furniture company selling a Brando chair, to Madonna (yes, that Madonna) for using his image in a concert.  The executors also cut a deal involving a private island in the South Pacific that Brando owned, allowing it to be turned into a swanky, eco-friendly resort for elite vacationers.

Many have questioned whether Brando would have wanted his island commercialized this way, just as many close to Brando sued his estate saying that the executors did not honor his intentions in other ways, such as refusing to honor gifts and promises that he made while alive to those that had been close to him for many years.

Many people make the common mistake of assuming their executors will honor their true wishes, as expressed verbally, even if the will and trust are not changed to include the new wishes.  Many of the lawsuits involving Brando's estate were based on this exact issue.  In the end, no one who claimed Brando told them they would receive more got what they wanted, and the estate spent countless millions on legal fees.  Only the lawyers walked away happy.

It's a good lesson to not leave your affairs up to chance.  Leaving specific and detailed instructions in your will or trust can help solve complications down the line.

For the latest celebrity and high-profile cases, with tips to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your clients, click to subscribe to "The Trial & Heirs Update".  You can “like” the Mayoras on Facebook and follow them on Twitter and Google+.


Danielle and Andy Mayoras are co-authors of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! and featured on-camera contributors to Celebrity Legacies.  Check out their in-depth look into the battle over Elizabeth Taylor’s estate.

Elizabeth Taylor is known for many things: her successful acting career, recognition as perhaps the ultimate icon of Hollywood glitz and glamour, standing up as a champion for AIDS research, her popular perfume, and, of course, her string of failed marriages.

Failed nuptials aside, almost everything Liz Taylor touched turned to gold.  But what about her estate?  Did she prepare her estate with the same high standards as the rest of her life?

Despite early reports that Taylor's family may fight over her estate, her estate has been just the opposite:  peaceful.  No probate filing, no copies of her will or trust published on the web, and no court battles.

In fact, almost four years after her death at the age of 79, very little is publicly known about Elizabeth Taylor's estate.  We do know that she created the Elizabeth Taylor Trust and funded it with her assets (including her publicity rights, including the power to manage her name, likeness and image).

We also know that her last ex-husband, number eight Larry Fortensky, inherited about $800,000, but that is only because he told the Daily Mail that in an interview.  There are also unverified reports that Taylor's Trust left most of her assets to her children, grandchildren, and charities (including AIDS research foundations), but the document itself has never been made public.

Why so much secrecy?  Wills are public record, and have to be filed with the probate court, which means that everyone can read them.  Properly-funded revocable living trusts, however, operate outside the probate system and remain private.  Even better, well-drafted trusts are much less costly to administer, usually without the need for court oversight.

We do know that Elizabeth Taylor's estate included a great deal of wealth — estimated to be about one billion dollars!  This number can't be fully verified, but it is in line with prior estimates.  In 1996, for example, when Taylor divorced Fortensky, her wealth was pegged at more than $600 million.  The New York Post reported that, during the 90's, Taylor earned about two dollars every second ... adding up to a tidy $63 million per year.

The biggest reason for this financial success?  Not her acting royalties and image rights, but her perfume.  As the first celebrity to launch her own fragrance, in 1987, Taylor had a huge head start on the field, raking in a reported $100 million by 1991.  Since then, the Liz Taylor collection of fragrances sold more than one billion dollars, worldwide.

And of course, who can forget about her jewelry?  Most of her jewelry was auctioned by Christie's in New York in December of 2011, bringing in more than $137 million.

What a great lesson in good estate planning!  Liz lived through eight marriages, which produced four children, ten grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.  Despite assets in the billion-dollar range — a substantial portion of which earmarked for AIDS and other charities — no one has gone to court to fight over Elizabeth Taylor's estate.

Compare that to the list of contentious celebrity estates that topped the news headlines in 2014 alone.  Taylor obviously had better luck in choosing estate planning attorneys than she did husbands!

Revocable living trusts are not just for the wealthy.  They are for anyone who wants his or her heirs to avoid probate court -- which is both expensive and stressful -- and to decrease the chances of a family inheritance fight.  Quality estate planning attorneys can usually prepare trusts for a modest amount, costing much less than the amount of legal fees and court costs an estate incurs when it passes through probate court.

Why not treat your heirs with the same gold standard as Elizabeth Taylor?

For the latest celebrity and high-profile cases, with tips to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your clients, click to subscribe to "The Trial & Heirs Update".  You can “like” the Mayoras on Facebook and follow them on Twitter and Google+.


Danielle and Andy Mayoras are co-authors of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! and featured on-camera contributors to Celebrity Legacies.  Check out their in-depth look into the battle over Marilyn Monroe's estate.

Marilyn Monroe left a legacy that seems to grow brighter each year.  Monroe's image and likeness were so valuable that a multi-million dollar lawsuit over her publicity rights raged on, more than fifty years after she died, until it was finally resolved by a federal court of appeals.

The second wife of Marilyn Monroe's acting coach was in the center of it.  Why did she — whom Monroe barely even knew — have control of the image and legacy of one of Hollywood's most beloved stars ever?

Marilyn Monroe, whose real name was Norma Jean Baker, had a difficult childhood.  Her mother struggled with mental illness, and Monroe didn't know for sure who her father was, much less have a relationship with him.  She was raised in a series of foster homes, until she was married for the first time at age 16.

When her first husband was serving overseas in the Merchant Marine during World War II, Monroe began modeling and acting.  From age 19, Monroe tried to find refuge from her troubled life by becoming a star. The rest, of course, is history.  Her fame grew and grew, even after her death from a drug overdose at the age of 36, in 1962.

Much like her life, Monroe's legacy has been marred by troubles.  Her business manager, Inez Melson, was suspicious from the start about Marilyn Monroe's will.  The will included money to care for her mother (still struggling with mental illness), gifts to a few others, but left the bulk of her estate to her acting coach and her psychiatrist.  The psychiatrist received 25% of the residue, using it to start a center to help those in need of psychiatric counseling.

All of Monroe's personal property and 75% of the residue (the majority of her estate) were left to Lee Strasberg, her acting coach.  When he ultimately passed away, his second wife took over control of the Marilyn Monroe legacy, despite the fact that she had only met Monroe once in her life.

In 1996, Anna Strasberg used this control to sign a licensing deal with CMG Worldwide.  In the next four years, this deal brought in more than $7.5 million for Strasberg, from a range of products, such as lighters, slot machines, and pet clothing.

Strasberg didn't stop there.  She also sued Inez Melson's heirs, who were in possession of some of Monroe's belongings after Melson died.  Strasberg won that lawsuit and turned Marilyn Monroe's personal belongings over to Christie's auction house to be sold.  The sale, held in 1999, brought in more than $13.4 million.

In 2005, Strasberg and CMG teamed up to sue photographers who used Marilyn Monroe's image without permission.  The court battle lasted for seven years and led to new legislation in California (which Strasberg pushed for) to allow non-relative heirs to control the publicity and image rights of a deceased celebrity.

Even this didn't stop the fight for control of Monroe's image, however, as a federal court of appeals ruled in 2012 that Monroe's estate was governed by the laws of New York, not California.  This meant that California's new law passed to protect Strasberg and Monroe's other heirs under her will did not help.  Instead, New York law — which did not recognize a celebrity's publicity rights after death — dictated that anyone could use her image or likeness for commercial purposes without compensating the heirs.

Strasberg sold her interest in the estate for a reported $20 to $30 million.  The figure undoubtedly would have been much higher if the litigation over control of Marilyn Monroe's image and legacy would have gone her way.

Anyone is now allowed to sell images of Marilyn Monroe and profit off of her likeness.  As the 2012 appellate court found, this was a fitting end to the legacy of one so beloved, for so long.  In Monroe's own words, "I knew that I belonged to the Public and to the world, not because I was talented or even beautiful but because I had never belonged to anything or anyone else."

It's too bad that Marilyn Monroe's will was not written differently.  She could have used her assets — as many celebrities do — to help charities and promote causes she wanted, placing those she trusted to manage one or more trusts.  Her acting coach and psychiatrist could have served in those roles, without leaving the bulk of her assets outright to someone, who later remarried and passed the property and legacy into the hands of someone Monroe barely knew.

Too many people don't take the time to think through the "what-ifs".  What if the person I name as executor or trustee is not able to do the job?  What if the person I want to receive my property does not live long enough to enjoy it?  Good estate planning takes care of all of these "what ifs", which are important for everyone, not just movie stars.

For the latest celebrity and high-profile cases, with tips to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your clients, click to subscribe to "The Trial & Heirs Update".  You can “like” the Mayoras on Facebook and follow them on Twitter and Google+.


Danielle and Andy Mayoras are co-authors of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! and featured on-camera contributors to Celebrity Legacies.  Check out their in-depth look into the battle over Farrah Fawcett's estate.

 When someone mentions Farrah Fawcett, most people think of her looks.  But what about her brains — her financial savvy in particular?  The actress and model who rose to fame as one of Charlie's Angels planned well to protect her troubled son, Redmond, after she passed away.  Yet all was not angelic when it came to her financial legacy.

Farrah Fawcett was far from the stereotypical blonde model when it came to finances.  She was hired to do five seasons of Charlie's Angels, by Aaron Spelling's production company.  After the first season hit it big, Fawcett re-negotiated for more money.  Relying on the fact that she never actually signed the contract, she was able to secure an increase in per-episode salary from $5,000 to $100,000.

Fawcett's savvy definitely came into play with merchandising.  She insisted on receiving 10% of the merchandising revenue related to the TV show, but Spelling balked and tried to have her blacklisted in Hollywood.  So she signed her own deal for a poster — her famous red bathing suit shot -- that is estimated to have sold five to six million copies, earning her a reported $400,000 for that item alone.

By the time Farrah Fawcett died from cancer in 2009, at age 62, her net worth was estimated at around $70 million.  She created a thorough revocable living trust, which provided for $4.5 million to be used for the benefit of Redmond, but in a controlled manner due to his troubles.  Her trust created an additional fund to support her father and outright gifts to others.  The bulk of Fawcett's assets went to a charitable foundation she created to fund cancer research, with all of her artwork going to the University of Texas at Austin, her alma mater.

What about her ex-boyfriend and father of her son, Ryan O'Neal?  Despite O'Neal's contention that he and Fawcett were almost married multiple times, O'Neal was not included in her trust.  Yet that didn't stop him from being involved in a costly inheritance fight.

In 1980, Andy Warhol painted a famous portrait of Farrah Fawcett.  More specifically, he created two originals.  Ryan O'Neal said Warhol approached him with the idea of the portrait, and O'Neal brought the artist and Fawcett together.  In exchange for brokering the deal, O'Neal said that Warhol made the second original painting for him to keep, which he did for almost 20 years.

What happened after that?  O'Neal said he eventually gave it back to Fawcett for safekeeping because his girlfriend at the time didn't like seeing it in his house.  Ryan O'Neal admitted that Fawcett walked in on him and the much-younger woman in bed together and was very upset.  They later reconciled, O'Neal says, and that's when she agreed to hold onto the second portrait for him.  Fawcett kept the painting until she died.  O'Neal removed it from her home a week or so later.

The University of Texas received a tip that O'Neal had the second Warhol portrait.  Already in possession of one of the paintings — because of the clause in Farrah Fawcett's trust leaving all of her artwork to the school — the University then sued Ryan O'Neal for the second one too.

The litigation lasted for years, until a jury concluded (with a vote of nine to three) that the portrait really did belong to O'Neal.  His testimony swayed the jury members, more so than documents showing that Fawcett, and not O'Neal, insured the second painting and she listed herself as its owner when she loaned it to a museum.

In the end, O'Neal kept the Warhol portrait and vowed never to sell it, despite its value of around twelve million dollars.  Is this what Farrah Fawcett would have wanted?

For all of her financial smarts — including her foresight to create a well-drafted trust to handle most of her assets and protect her son — Fawcett did not clearly specify what was included in her collection of artwork that she left to the University of Texas.  Given the high value of the portrait, it would have made sense for Fawcett and her estate planning attorneys to spell out exactly what art she owned and what she intended the University to receive.

That way, it wouldn't have taken a long and expensive court battle to settle who owned the painting.  It's a good lesson of how important the details of an estate plan can be.  When wills and trusts are planned and prepared thoroughly, and regularly updated throughout someone's life, then there is less chance that something will be left out or rendered unclear.

When important details are left out of a will or trust, it often provokes a family fight -- even when millions of dollars aren't on the line.

For the latest celebrity and high-profile cases, with tips to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your clients, click to subscribe to "The Trial & Heirs Update".  You can “like” the Mayoras on Facebook and follow them on Twitter and Google+.


Danielle and Andy Mayoras are co-authors of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! and featured on-camera contributors to Celebrity Legacies.  Check out their in-depth look into the battle over John Wayne's estate.

The popularity of the Duke has never waned.  But are John Wayne's heirs going too far in profiting off of his legacy?  And what does Duke University have to say about it?

With a movie career that spanned fifty years, there is no disputing that John Wayne is one of the most successful and treasured actors of all times.  He was in the top ten list of actors whose films generated the highest box office gross earnings for an astonishing 25 years in a row.  The Duke also holds the record for most leading movie roles of all time — 142.  To this day, he remains in the top ten list in the annual Harris poll of favorite Hollywood actors and actresses.  In fact, the American Film Institute ranked Wayne as number 13 on the list of top male actors of all time.

John Wayne is the rare actor who transcended the entertainment industry to become an American icon.  The inscription on the Congressional Gold Medal awarded to him in 1979, the year he passed away from cancer at age 72, reads, simply, "John Wayne, American."

It should come as no surprise that John Wayne's heirs are profiting handsomely from his ever-lasting popularity.  In 2013, the Duke was a near-miss on the Forbes top-earning dead celebrities list.  In 2011, his son, Ethan Wayne, put up over 700 items of Wayne's memorabilia up for auction, generating $5.38 million for the heirs.

Ethan Wayne operates John Wayne Enterprises, which was created to manage the Duke's name, image, and likeness.  It was owned by his seven children, from two different marriages (Wayne's second of three marriages did not produce any children, and two of his children have since died, with their interests passing onto grandchildren).  When Ethan took over operations, he decided to hold the auction and explore new ways to raise money based on his father's name and legacy.

In doing so, Ethan has been at the center of a number of legal fights over John Wayne's legacy.  In 2006, Ethan led the company in a battle against the widow of his half-brother, whose production company was in possession of several items of important memorabilia. In 2010, Ethan's sister sued him and the company to force them to buy out her interests in John Wayne Enterprises.  The siblings could not agree on the value of the company, $10.7 million or $15.4 million.

Most recently, Ethan and John Wayne Enterprises started Duke Spirits, with an eye towards using his name and image to sell a new brand of Kentucky bourbon.  Ethan opened some boxes from John Wayne's house that hadn't been touched in the thirty years since the Duke died.  He found Wayne's handwritten notes about making good bourbon and unopened bottles of his favorite brands.  Ethan partnered with a wine-making company to create the new drink.

The only problem was Duke University.  It opposed the trademark applications of John Wayne Enterprises on the ground that the term "Duke" might be confused with the University.  Ethan Wayne led the court fight against the University, arguing that they only intended to use the Duke name with John Wayne's image, name, and likeness, so no one could confuse it with Duke University.

Duke University representatives said they agreed to allow the Duke name to be used, as long as it was only used in connection with John Wayne.  Ethan and his legal team said they never wanted to use it in any other way.  Despite that, at last report, the dispute remains unresolved.

Some have wondered if Ethan Wayne is going too far to profit off of John Wayne's all-American image.  Ethan explained that he tries to uphold his father’s legacy with everything he does, such as when he looks at new products, "I work to make sure that we incorporate his spirit into that product. If it’s a mug, it’s a great mug. If it’s a pocketknife, it’s a terrific pocketknife. Something that can be used and enjoyed."

It’s clearly not all about the dollars.  Ethan Wayne also serves as the director of the John Wayne Cancer Foundation, which was formed by the family to fight against cancer in John Wayne’s name.

While few people need to worry about whether their legacy will be used to promote mugs and pocketknives, everyone has a legacy they leave behind.  Sometimes it’s a family business or treasured home.  Other times it’s a dedication to a favorite charity.  Or it could be as simple as sentimental items, such as family photographs.

With good estate planning, including a proper will and trust, you can pick the person you believe will best carry on your legacy, and minimize the chances of a family fight.  And more detailed documents usually work better, with specific instructions for your important assets — whether they have monetary or sentimental value.

While the John Wayne family battles involved more money than most families have, court fights when a loved one passes are far from uncommon.  This is especially true when a person put in charge of the estate or trust makes controversial choices, or when the documents are unclear or too vague.  Take the time to plan out how you want the things that matter most to you to pass on, and who should be the one to carry out your wishes, no matter how large or small your financial legacy may be.

For the latest celebrity and high-profile cases, with tips to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your clients, click to subscribe to "The Trial & Heirs Update".  You can “like” the Mayoras on Facebook and follow them on Twitter and Google+.


Danielle and Andy Mayoras are co-authors of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! and featured on-camera contributors to Celebrity Legacies.  Check out their in-depth look into the battle over Kurt Cobain's estate.

It has been more than twenty years since Kurt Cobain, the lead singer of Nirvana, died from a shotgun blast to his head, at age 27. His talent, passion, and creativity launched a new movement for not only rock music, but American culture itself.

Cobain was a game-changer who burned too bright — brighter than he could handle.   His suicide note summarized it well:  "I don't have the passion anymore, and so remember, it's better to burn out than to fade away."

Cobain's death may have epitomized the burning out of a flame that grew too hot, but it sparked something else — court fights and ugly battles over his legacy that continued for almost 20 years.

His widow, Courtney Love, has been at the center of it all.  In 1997, she and Cobain's former Nirvana band-mates, Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic, formed a limited liability company to manage all Nirvana-related projects.  Just a few years later,  on the eve of the release of a massive 45-track box set of Nirvana rare recordings, Love filed a lawsuit to dissolve the LLC.

Love claimed that her 1997 agreement with the pair should have been voided because she signed the deal under bad advice, and Cobain was really the band — Grohl and Novoselic were only sidemen, Love said.  They, unsurprisingly, counter-sued Love, seeking to remove her from the LLC because she was "incapacitated".  They asked for a psychiatric examination of her.

The fighting went back and forth until 2002, when they settled the lawsuit and agreed to green-light the release of the box set.  Eventually, when Nirvana was inducted into the Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame in the Spring of 2014, Love, Grohl and Novoselic appeared together and said they mended their relationship.

The lawyer, Rhonda Holmes, accused the would-be defendants of "such greed and moral turpitude" that the case would "make Bernard Madoff look warm and fuzzy."  Yet the lawsuit never came to fruition, much to Love's disappointment.

So what did Love do instead?  She took to Twitter to accuse Holmes of being bought out by those responsible for the claimed estate fraud.  Love even blamed Holmes for causing a rift in her relationship with her daughter, Frances Cobain, Kurt's daughter.

In fact, in 2009, Frances Cobain went to court for a restraining order against her mother.  Love lost custody of her daughter as well control of a trust fund that had been set up through Kurt Cobain's estate for Frances' benefit.

Holmes never did file a lawsuit on Love's behalf, but instead sued Courtney Love, claiming she committed libel by her accusatory tweet.  Love eventually won the lawsuit, after a trial in early 2014.  The jury found that the accusations were untrue, but that Love didn't knowingly make a false statement.

What was the fall-out from all this fighting?  Love says she lost about $27 million, mostly because of the lawsuits, and she ended up selling a share of the publishing rights to Nirvana music in 2006, for $50 million.  Love is still estranged from her daughter, Frances, who reportedly inherited 37% of her father's estate when she turned 18, in 2010.

Love also gave up control of Cobain's image and licensing rights, in exchange for a loan in 2009 from the trust that was created for Frances.  Despite this, Love said in an interview that she still has veto power over how Nirvana songs are used.  Love also said that Frances has no vote in the Nirvana music catalog until she turns 40.

The Kurt Cobain Estate has an estimated value of $450 million — although Courtney Love has previously claimed most of the estate assets were gone.  Clearly, Cobain's image, publicity rights, and songs have led to a continual income stream for Courtney Love and Frances Cobain both.

With that much value, one would have thought that Cobain set up a detailed estate plan, with a will, various trusts, and other legal protections so his family wouldn't fight, right?  Nope.  Kurt Cobain made the mistake that up to two-thirds of adults in our country have made — he never made out even a simple will.  His assets passed "intestate," meaning without a will, to Courtney Love and Frances Cobain.

By dying intestate, not only did Cobain have no say in who received his assets, or how or when they received them, he was not able to name an executor or trustee to manage his assets.  This included his image rights, publishing and performance royalties, and his valuable licensing rights.   As a result, Love was left in charge, despite her well-publicized struggles with drugs, psychiatric problems, and instability.

In fact, an attorney said that Cobain came to her before he died to create a will that would have excluded Love, because Cobain was planning to divorce her.  Is that true?  We will never know, but we do know that Cobain's messy estate never should have been exposed to this much trouble.

Cobain owed it to his loved ones — especially his young daughter — to do the proper estate planning, including a will and at least one revocable living trust.  It's a lesson everyone can learn from.  Even those with modest estates should have a will to protect their families and  their legacies.

Those who chose not to control their legacies from the grave are taking a huge risk of a family estate fight.  While few can match the intensity or importance of the legacy of Kurt Cobain, everyone's legacy is important to the loved ones they leave behind.

For the latest celebrity and high-profile cases, with tips to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your clients, click to subscribe to "The Trial & Heirs Update".  You can “like” the Mayoras on Facebook and follow them on Twitter and Google+.


Danielle and Andy Mayoras are co-authors of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! and featured on-camera contributors to Celebrity Legacies.  Check out their in-depth look into the battle over Elvis Presley's estate.

Elvis Presley earned more than one billion dollars during his career... so why was his estate worth only about ten million dollars when he died?  How did things get even worse for his heirs afterwards?

And what would Elvis say about appearing as a hologram?

There can be no doubt that Elvis Presley truly earned his nickname as the King of Rock 'n' Roll.  His lifetime earnings topped one billion dollars over his 25-year career — especially impressive considering this came in the 50's, 60's, and 70's.

Some of Elvis' financial success is attributed to his manager and promoter, Colonel Tom Parker.  He helped Elvis secure unprecedented movie deals — paying him top dollar (about $100,000 per movie in the 50's and 60's) and up to 50% of all movie profits too. Later, Parker secured a $125,000 per week deal for Elvis with a Las Vegas hotel.  That's about $800,000 a week in today's dollars.

And Elvis certainly enjoyed spending his earnings and was generous to a fault!  He frequently bought Cadillacs to give away to employees and members of his entourage, called the Memphis Mafia.  The cost of maintaining his famed Graceland estate was massive — and Elvis mortgaged it late in his life to help continue his lavish payroll.  His well-paid employees included a host of bodyguards, drivers, managers, and of course, his favorite hairdresser.

By the time of his tragic heart attack on August 16, 1977, Elvis Presley's bank account had only about five million dollars and his total estate was worth a reported 10.2 million dollars.  Given that he was the highest-paid entertainer in the world in his prime, and the highest single tax-payer in the United States, this sum seems almost paltry.

While Colonel Tom Parker undoubtedly has to get credit for much of Elvis' commercial success, his work for Elvis was far from selfless.  Instead of a standard manager's commission of 10 to 20 percent, Parker had a 50/50 deal with Elvis.  But he also managed to double dip into Elvis' earnings.  Parker used companies he set up — including Elvis Presley Enterprises — to cut Elvis' share down to 22 percent of every dollar earned for much of the income, including merchandising.

After that fateful August night in 1977, Parker no longer had the King to manage or make money for him.  But that didn't stop him!  Instead, he approached the executor of the Elvis Presley Estate — Elvis' father, Vernon Presley — and warned him that he would be the target of scam artists and pirates.  Given Vernon's heart condition, Parker convinced him to sign a new agreement to let Parker manage the Estate and receive 50 percent of all income received, in order to "protect" Vernon.

This amounted to quite a windfall for Parker.  The income expected to come in through Elvis Presley's estate, in terms of royalties from his music and movies, merchandising, commercial uses of his image and likeness, etc., would have been astronomical, even if nothing was done to promote it.  He was, after all, the King of Rock 'n' Roll.

Eventually, due to a probate court proceeding, an independent attorney was appointed to investigate Parker's agreement with the estate.  The attorney's 300-page report concluded that Parker's commissions were unreasonable and exorbitant compared to industry averages.  The attorney challenged the validity of the holding company for Elvis' merchandising rights, which caused the estate to receive only 22% of related profits.  Accordingly, all agreements with Parker were terminated.

It was also revealed that "Colonel" Tom Parker was an illegal immigrant who was born under an entirely different name in Holland.  Parker never obtained a green card and, accordingly, never let Elvis tour overseas — because Parker could not have gone with him.  Parker was also known to have a serious gambling habit, losing more than one million dollars on some nights.  So it is perhaps unsurprising that Elvis' estate dwindled down to about one million dollars by 1979.

But with Parker's influence finally gone from the Elvis Presley Estate, and with the family's decision to turn Graceland into a tourist attraction, the financial fortunes of the estate rose dramatically.  In 2005, Lisa Marie Presley (who was Elvis' primary heir under his will) was able to sell 85% interest in Elvis Presley Enterprises for $114 million.  Since then, the estate — which still owns Graceland — continues to bring in $55 to $60 million annually some years.

Who knows how much higher that sum will grow if the reported stories about an Elvis Presley hologram beginning to tour prove true?

In the end, Elvis Presley was too successful and too beloved for his estate not to turn a profit — at least, once the influence of the Colonel was removed.  It makes you wonder how much better off Elvis' estate would have been if his last will and testament had been better.

Elvis named his father Vernon as the executor and didn't name an alternate or back-up choice.  Vernon had poor health and an advanced age — not to mention his lack of sophistication to manage assets as valuable as Elvis' royalties, income, and properties. Elvis' will left Vernon in a vulnerable position to Parker or others who could have preyed on his naiveté to take over the Elvis Presley cash cow.

Most wealthy people at the time — especially one of Elvis' magnitude — would have created a trust with a range of credentialed and trustworthy people to manage the assets.  Instead, by leaving it all in Vernon's hands, he became an easy mark for Parker — which ultimately almost bankrupt the estate.  If not for the probate court's investigation and intervention, Lisa Marie might have been left with nothing but debt.

While very few people have assets that approach even a fraction of the value of the Elvis Presley Estate, this still provides an important lesson.  Too many people make the mistake of automatically choosing an executor or trustee based on who is the oldest child, or perhaps, who lives closest.

The key competent in choosing a trustee or executor is "trust."  While Elvis clearly trusted his father, he should have been more careful to think through who would be in the best position to protect his estate and legacy.  It's especially unwise to name only one executor, with no alternate choices, especially when the nominated person is older.

Everyone would be wise to learn from the King's mistakes.  It's very important for your loved ones left behind to name the most capable and trustworthy executor and trustee to manage your financial legacy.

For the latest celebrity and high-profile cases, with tips to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your clients, click to subscribe to "The Trial & Heirs Update".  You can “like” the Mayoras on Facebook and follow them on Twitter and Google+.


Danielle and Andy Mayoras are co-authors of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! and featured on-camera contributors to Celebrity Legacies.  Check out their in-depth look into the battle over John Lennon's estate.

When John Lennon of the Beatles was tragically murdered in 1980, his controversial widow, Yoko Ono, took charge of his legacy and his fortune... but where did that leave his two sons? As arguably the most successful songwriter of all time, what did Lennon leave behind?

And what did the King of Pop have to do with Lennon's legacy?

He famously sang "All You Need Is Love."  When it came to leaving money for his first-born son, John Lennon must have had that song in mind, because he apparently didn't believe that Julian needed money.  In fact, according to Lennon's first wife, Julian's mother Cynthia, the man known as the "cool" Beatle was a cruel negotiator during their divorce. Cynthia says he refused to give more than 75,000 pounds for her and Julian, supposedly telling her she wasn't worth any more.

As part of the 1967 divorce, Lennon created a trust for Julian to receive 100,000 pounds when he turned 21, but he had to split that equally with any other children born to Lennon. From then on, Lennon saw his son Julian no more than once per year, and sometimes went years without seeing him at all.

 The story was much different before the divorce.  Julian and Cynthia lived with Lennon for Julian's first five years of life.  Reportedly, Lennon set up a trust at that time, with about 250,000 pounds for Julian to receive when he turned 25.  But when Yoko Ono came on the scene — helping to end Lennon's first marriage — Lennon's relationship as a father to Julian, for all practical purposes, ended as well.

Cynthia wrote in a book that Julian and his father started to become closer at the very end of Lennon's life.  But, in a 1980 interview — not long before he was shot and killed — Lennon said that Julian was born from an unplanned pregnancy.  He even said Julian "came out of a whiskey bottle," unlike Lennon's son born later from his marriage to Yoko Ono.

So it should not have come as a surprise that when John Lennon's will was revealed, it left everything to a trust controlled by Yoko Ono and an accountant, the beneficiaries for which are believed to be Ono and their son, Sean.  Julian was reportedly left out in the cold. Also, because Ono was named as the sole executor of Lennon's estate, it gave her complete control over Lennon's image, legacy, and much of his song rights.

Of course, Lennon had also given Ono similar control while he was still alive, by giving her power of attorney.  Ono used that power to invest Lennon's money in real estate, art, Egyptian artifacts, and even livestock (including 122 cows and 10 bulls).

Despite Ono's unique investing style (or, perhaps, because of it), Lennon died with an estate worth a reported 220 million pounds. Ono has continued to manage the estate, along with Lennon's image and royalties, to bring in around $12 million per year in earnings. It could have been higher, except that much of the Beatles catalog of music was sold in 1985, for $47.5 million.  Who was the buyer?  Michael Jackson, of course!

Julian did not take being snubbed from the John Lennon estate lightly.  He sued, engaging in a long battle against Ono for a share of the fortune.  Julian felt that Ono had improperly influenced Lennon.  Eventually, they settled the dispute, but not until 1996 — 16 years after Lennon was killed.  While the amount of the settlement is confidential, media reports place the figure at around 20 million pounds.

For his part, Julian said he couldn't disclose how much he received, but says what he received wasn't what he considered to be fair.  He felt it was much preferable to the alternative — facing a lengthy court battle against Ono when she had the wealth of the estate behind her.

The John Lennon estate teaches a critical lesson about estates.  Often, no one wins when a family faces a long and expensive probate fight, which are far more common than most people realize (especially in second-marriage families).  Julian was probably wise to settle when he did, allowing him to get on with his life and save a small fortune in legal fees.

It's usually not easy to challenge someone's will or trust — at least without strong evidence of mental incompetency or undue influence.  These can be hard to prove, especially when the will was prepared for a person who was young.  Lennon was just 39 years old when he signed his will, about 13 months before he died.

Sometimes, other family members (or even non-family members) can force your hand and leave you no choice but to battle it out in probate court.  If so, be prepared for emotional turmoil, many stressful months or even years, and a big financial hit.  If you have a chance to reach a reasonable settlement, it is usually much better than the alternative.

For the latest celebrity and high-profile cases, with tips to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your clients, click to subscribe to "The Trial & Heirs Update".  You can “like” the Mayoras on Facebook and follow them on Twitter and Google+.


Danielle and Andy Mayoras are co-authors of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! and featured on-camera contributors to Celebrity Legacies.  Check out their in-depth look into the battle over Whitney Houston's estate.

Whitney Houston's fortune bounced from sky-high to significant debt.  What did this mean for her estate?  And was it money — or something else — behind Whitney's ugly legal battle with her "step-mother"? How exactly does Bobby Brown fit into all of this? Before Whitney Houston unexpectedly drowned in a Beverly Hills hotel bathtub at age 48, on February 11, 2012, rumors circulated that she was in such financial trouble that she was nearly broke.  She reportedly died $20 million in debt. How could that be possible for the singer who signed a $100 million record contract in 2001?  And 2001 doesn't even rank as her most successful year!  In 1993, Whitney earned $33 million from The Bodyguard soundtrack and gave birth to her only child, Bobbi Kristina. Yet by the time of her divorce from Bobby Brown in 2007, the divorce paperwork revealed she had only ten million dollars worth of assets and more than four million dollars in debt.  Whitney didn't sell enough records after 2001 to repay the advance on her $100 million recording contract, meaning that she owed back a substantial amount of money from that deal. That's also around the time that Whitney Houston began a bizarre legal fight against her step-mother, Barbara Houston.  Barbara, the widow of Whitney's father, sued Whitney in 2008 claiming that Whitney had wrongly kept one million dollars in life insurance that Barbara felt was intended to benefit her, even though Whitney was the named beneficiary. Barbara contended in the lawsuit that the life insurance money was meant to repay Whitney for a mortgage she held over her father's house, and Whitney was supposed to release the mortgage (around $700,000) and turn the rest of the money over to Barbara. Barbara pointed to letters from accountants and attorneys who were involved in the mortgage transaction that confirmed this was her late husband's intent. So did Whitney give in and release the mortgage and some of the money?  No — just the opposite.  She counter-sued, asking to foreclose the mortgage, take Barbara's house, and keep all of the insurance money plus interest.  Whitney also used the public lawsuit to point out how Barbara was 40 years younger than Whitney's father, met him as a maid cleaning his house, and how the couple got married before the ink on the divorce judgment between Whitney's parents was even dry. Whitney ultimately won that lawsuit — after it went up to the federal court of appeals — but before Whitney's lawyers could finish the eviction, Whitney died.  If her father had made his intent clear in his estate planning documents, this ugly and expensive battle could have been avoided.  He should have named either his estate or a trust as the beneficiary of the life insurance policy, and then spelled out in his will or trust who was to keep the money and why. Given that lesson of how poor estate planning can cause complications, surely Whitney would have taken care of her own estate planning the proper way, right?  Not exactly.  Her will was signed in 1993 — one month before her daughter was born — and she never updated it, throughout her marriage, divorce, or the birth of Bobbi Kristina. And strangely, Whitney Houston didn't ever set up a trust — which is standard protocol for most people with even a fraction of Whitney's wealth.  Instead, her will stated that all of her assets would go to any children she had (which of course, turned out to be just Bobbi Kristina), payable in percentages as she reached certain ages:  10% at age 21, one-sixth at age 25, and the rest at age 30. Luckily for Bobbi Kristina, the spike in sales after Whitney's death led to enough money to pay off Whitney's $20 million in debts, and created another $20 million in net worth for the estate. But this financial turn-around wasn't all roses and sunshine.  Whitney's family was concerned that Bobbi Kristina wasn't mature enough to handle millions at age 21.  They felt Whitney really intended for her to get the money later in life.  Whitney's mother, Cissy, as well as others in the family, worried that Bobbi Kristina would fall prey to unsavory people trying to get to Whitney's money. In fact, because of the family's concerns, it led to trouble at Whitney's funeral, surrounding Bobby Brown.  And later on, it caused the family to question the motives of Nick Gordon — who married Bobbi Kristina just as she turned 21 (despite the fact that many considered him to be like a brother to Bobbi Kristina). Because of their concerns, Cissy Houston, along with Whitney's sister-in-law, Pat Houston, started legal proceedings to reform Whitney's will so that Bobbi Kristina wouldn't inherit so much money at such a young age.  But their efforts did not make it very far.  Cissy and Pat had to drop the case because, regardless of Whitney's actual intentions before she died, the language in the will controlled what happened. So Bobbi Kristina gets her money as scheduled, and Cissy, Pat and the rest of the Houston family members can do nothing about it ... although Pat did file for a restraining order against Nick Gordon at one point after a fight at a family gathering. If Whitney's intention really was for Bobbi Kristina to receive the money when she became more mature, then Whitney fell victim to the same estate planning mistake as her father. It's critical for every adult with assets of any significance (not just millionaires) to use properly-drafted — and updated — wills and trusts to make sure that their wishes are followed. Doing the right estate planning is truly an act of love for the next generation ... whether you're a celebrity or not.

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