Intestacy lessons from the rich and famous

Heather Dunlop


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February 7, 2022

Categories Private Client Law Updates

While celebrities often have many professional advisors who look after their business affairs, like many ordinary people they sometimes do not get around to making a will and setting out their particular wishes.

When you die without a will, predetermined laws of intestacy decide who should inherit your estate and in what shares, and while these laws seek to deal with matters in a fair way, they cannot take into account modern family structures, family dynamics or personal wishes.

It is only by seeking advice on the preparation of a will that your own situation can be fully considered. There are many ways in which intestacy provisions might not be suitable for your needs.

The article below highlights some of the lessons that can be learned from Pablo Picasso, Prince, Amy Winehouse, Rik Mayall and Stieg Larsson, and why you should not put off making your will.

Stieg Larsson’s lesson for unmarried couples

Depending on your family circumstances, the intestacy rules may not provide for those who are closest to you. Author Stieg Larsson, who famously wrote the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, died intestate. His vast wealth passed to his father under intestacy, leaving his long-term partner with nothing.

Unmarried couples are not entitled to each other’s estates, regardless of the seriousness or length of the relationship, so the only way to ensure your partner receives any of your assets is to leave them under a will.

Rik Mayall’s lesson in tax planning

Intestacy is often not the best approach when it comes to tax planning. When actor Rik Mayall died intestate, his wealth was subject to a substantial inheritance tax liability that might have been reduced if he had planned his affairs during his lifetime. Obtaining advice around pre-planning and putting suitable provisions in place can help you to ensure that your estate benefits from available tax savings in the best way possible. One of the most important ways to achieve this is with a will.

Pablo Picasso’s lesson to save delay and costs

Without a valid will, a complex and extensive estate can be difficult to deal with, resulting in unnecessary delays and high costs. Whilst an average estate takes around one year to administer, when Pablo Picasso died without a will his estate reportedly took six years to settle and cost approximately $30 million. Instructing a professional to make sure everything is set out beforehand means your loved ones receive their money more quickly and your estate’s legal costs are lower.

Prince’s lesson for philanthropists

Family feuds over who should inherit may be more likely and harder to settle where there is no will, as the person’s wishes remain unknown. After the artist we call Prince died, intestacy rules meant that all his assets passed to his siblings, leaving his five half-siblings without a share of his estate. Had Prince made a will, he could have given some money to his half-siblings as well. He might also have chosen to leave some gifts to the various charities he gave generously to throughout his lifetime, something which can never be achieved without a will. Appropriate legal advice can help guide you to ensure that all your favourite charities are provided for, without disadvantaging your loved ones.

Amy Winehouse’s lesson for entrepreneurs

Intestacy rules do not consider the continued management of estate assets like a business or intellectual property such as royalties from music. Amy Winehouse’s intestacy resulted in her £4 million estate being almost entirely depleted within two years of her death after her companies passed into the control of her parents. A will would have allowed her to appoint an appropriate person to manage the companies on behalf of her beneficiaries and to ensure that they remained viable assets.

If you are a business owner, it is important that you understand how that business will be dealt with on your death. You should seek professional advice to consider the continuing needs of your beneficiaries as well as anyone associated with your business.

How we can help

Whether you have a significant music back-catalogue or a special collection of vinyl records, making a will is the most effective way of determining who will benefit from them. It ensures that you are in control of how your estate passes, that you have planned in the most tax-efficient way, and that your loved ones will not be left arguing after you have gone.

Our solicitors can advise you on preparing a will in a way that ensures your choices are clear and legally binding, as well as advising you how best to pre-empt or manage potential conflicts and how your estate might be affected by various taxes.

For further information, please contact Solicitor, Heather Dunlop, in our Private Client team on 01227 763939 for advice about wills and estate planning.


Please note: This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice.