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  • Northern Virginia Trusts & Estates

Notable People Who Died Without Wills (And What We Can Learn From Them)

There’s a concerning trend in recent years where celebrities and notable figures died without wills or estate plans.

It’s a trend that, in many cases, pre-dates COVID.

It’s also one that fuels new motivation for everyone to ensure that, in any financial scenario, a clear estate plan is in place to protect assets and relieve the burden on loved ones.

Read on to learn about notable people who died intestate (without a will) and what a new estate planning survey has found about Americans and wills post-COVID.

These Celebrities Died Without Estate Plans

They’re often well-off, have many assets, and lead comfortable financial lives. But celebrities and public figures are not immune to the same procrastination we may feel over drawing up our wills and creating an estate plan.

In these scenarios, the lack of an estate plan created many complications when it came time to settle the estate – and some proceedings are still going on now.

In August 2020, Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman, 43, passed away after a 4-year battle with colon cancer. He didn’t have a will and had an estimated $938,500 million estate that was subject to probate court. Boseman’s widow was later appointed administrator over his estate, with limited authority, after petitioning the court last October. The estate is expected to be settled this month.

In November 2020, entrepreneur and former CEO Tony Hseih, 46, died from smoke inhalation injuries sustained in a house fire. He left behind an estate worth an estimated $840 million – including owning nearly 100 properties in Las Vegas – and no will or estate plan. His family petitioned a judge to name his father and brother as special administrators of his estate. They are currently working to sell his Las Vegas real estate holdings.

‘Queen of Soul’ Aretha Franklin died at 76 of pancreatic cancer in August 2018 without leaving a will. Her estate was ultimately worth an estimated $17 million, with $8 million owed in taxes. In the following months, her niece was appointed administrator of her estate. She stepped aside in 2020 amid family strife. Franklin’s four sons spent roughly 2 years squabbling over her assets, including fighting over handwritten wills found in her home.

Iconic musician Prince died at 57 in April 2016 of an accidental opioid overdose, leaving behind a fortune estimated at $300 million and no will. As of April 2020, Prince’s estate was still unsettled and in the hands of multiple administrators. He has 6 heirs, including siblings and half-siblings, who may inherit some of his fortune.

Other notable people who died without wills include Jimi Hendrix, Michael Jackson (his will later surfaced, but was initially unknown to family), Bob Marley, Sonny Bono, Pablo Picasso, Howard Hughes, Kurt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse.

It’s difficult to understand why people with massive estates don’t have wills. One can hypothesize, however, based on recently published research, that their reasons are similar to the millions of Americans who also don’t have estate plans.

What Post-COVID Estate Planning Stats Show for Americans’s 2021 Wills and Estate Planning Study found that, despite the pandemic, the overall percentage of Americans with a will hasn’t significantly changed since the onset of COVID.

Over the past 4 years, the percentage of U.S. adults with a will has actually decreased, from 42% in 2017 to 32.9% this year.

COVID has encouraged younger adults to draw up wills, however. The number of young adults with a will increased by 69% since 2020. This year for the first time, 18-34-year-olds are more likely to have wills over middle-aged Americans, ages 35 to 54.

Americans 55 and older still lead the three age groups in wills – 44% of this group have estate planning documents in 2021.

As for reasons Americans have for not drawing up a will in 2021? The most common of them reported include:

  1. “I haven’t gotten around to it.” – 34.2%

  2. “I don’t have assets to leave anyone.” – 28.1%

  3. “I don’t know how to get a will or living trust.” – 7.6%

  4. “It’s too expensive to set up.” (Least common reason) – 5.6%

Learn more stats in’s study, which surveyed 2,500 Americans in December 2020.

Why You Need A Will – Whether You Have a Lot or a Little

Whether you have a sizable estate or a modest one, it’s important to have a plan for what will happen to your assets should you pass away or become incapacitated. Not having one – especially if you have dependents or a complicated estate – can leave your loved ones and assets in limbo.

Reach Out To Us Today To Start Drawing Up Your Estate Plan

Drawing up your will and other estate planning documents — such as a trust, an advance medical directive, a power of attorney, and more — is less expensive than you think. And we make the entire process easy and seamless. Call us at 703-938-3510 or contact us today to start drawing up your estate plan in Virginia.

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