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The Long List of Famous People Who Didn’t Have Wills

The Wall Street Journal reports in the April 27 article, “What Prince and Abraham Lincoln Have in Common,” that the purple rock royal joins a pantheon of famous people who left the world without instructions on how to distribute their property. Here are a few notable will-less people throughout history:

Abraham Lincoln: “So great a man as Abraham Lincoln left no will, though he had a considerable estate,” wrote St. Louis law professor Virgil M. Harris a century ago in his often-cited history of wills. More recently, a 2012 Forbes article looked into the Great Emancipator’s less-than-great estate planning. By noon on the day he died—April 15, 1865—Lincoln’s oldest son, Robert, sent a telegram to Justice David Davis of the U.S. Supreme Court, a close friend of Lincoln. The telegram said, “Please come at once to Washington to take charge of my father’s affairs. Answer.” Davis went to Washington, and Mrs. Lincoln and Robert wrote a letter to the judge in Illinois asking that he appoint Davis as the administrator of Lincoln’s Estate. Davis reported that the estate was believed to be worth $85,000 and would be divided between Mary and Lincoln’s two living children at the time, Robert and Thomas. The sum would be worth at least a few million dollars today—a lot of money to pass without a will.

Pablo Picasso: “One of Picasso’s lawyers told me he urged the artist many times to make a will but that ‘he never did because of superstition. A way of avoiding death, one might say,'” wrote an estate planning attorney.

Howard Hughes: “People claiming to be Hughes’ children or beneficiaries of his will are legion and have been a cottage industry since he died in 1976,” Hughes biographer James B. Steele told the Sandusky Register in 2012. After the billionaire’s death, there was speculation as to the whereabouts of his last will and testament. Hughes had most likely left a holographic will, a handwritten will. In his 1972 press conference, Hughes announced that he planned to leave his money to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Miami. After an intense search for the will, there was no proof of its existence. The evidence was overwhelming that after the 1920s Hughes refused to execute a will.

Jimi Hendrix: The battle over Hendrix’s estate went on for more time than the rock legend was alive. In 2015, The Seattle Times reported that the latest family feud between Hendrix’s adopted sister and his brother over Jimi’s estate had been resolved. Experience Hendrix, L.L.C., which owns the rights to the Hendrix estate and is controlled by Janie Hendrix, settled out of court with—operated by Leon Hendrix—for damages associated with the sale of merchandise that capitalized on Hendrix’s fame.

Many men of wealth and distinction die without a will. Don’t you be one of them.

Reference: Wall Street Journal (April 27, 2006) “What Prince and Abraham Lincoln Have in Common”

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