12 Celebrities Who Died Without a Will⁠—And Their Disputes


Death—the ultimate truth of life. We are alive today, but we have no guarantee that we will live to see tomorrow. No matter who we are, where we are from, or what we do, death is something that we can’t run away from. 

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What we can do is prepare for the eventuality and leave a will behind so that our belongings can be passed on to our loved ones. No one likes to think about their mortality, be they regular people who live in simple homes or world-renowned celebrities who have several mansions to their name. 

This is the reason why there are so many musicians, artists, politicians, and businessmen who died intestate. Regardless of how much you have in the way of possessions to pass on, there’s a lot you can learn from these famous deaths. Let’s take a look at a few notable personalities who met their untimely demise and didn't leave a will behind.

Musicians, Actors, and Artists Who Died Without a WIll 

Celebrities may live in a world of glamor, but they are as human as we are, and many of them don’t like the idea of dealing with financial matters in case of their death. Here are a few famous people who died without a will, including several musicians, actors, and artists.

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1. Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix was a legendary musician and a great guitarist. He died on Sept 18, 1970, but left no instructions as to how his estate would be divided and died intestate.

The battle over Jimi Hendrix’s estate raged for over 30 years. The entire legal battle could have been avoided if Hendrix had made a will in his life.

2. Stieg Larsson

Who hasn’t heard of the famous book “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”? The renowned Swedish writer Stieg Larsson died in 2004 and didn’t leave a will behind. According to the laws of Sweden, his estate was divided between his brother and his father.

What is truly devastating here is that Eva Gabrielsson, his partner of more than 32 years, didn’t receive anything. The family did give her the ownership of the apartment where the couple was residing.

3. Pablo Picasso

We have seen the fabulous artwork of Picasso many times in our lives. However, what most of us don’t know is that he died intestate as well. He died at the age of 91 in 1973 and left behind a fortune in the form of artwork, cash, homes, gold, bonds, and more. 

It took 6 years to get his estate settled, and a whopping $30 million was paid to the attorneys. The estate was divided between his 6 heirs, who were his next of kin.

4. Robert Burns

Robert Burns was a famous Scottish poet and well-known author of “Auld Lang Syne” who died at the age of 37 in 1796. He died intestate and was heavily in debt. His widow, Jean Armour, was forced to go to court so that she could become an executor of his estate. 

His meager belongings were sheep, corn, cattle, and household items. His mother was paid a stipend. A little money for room and board was given to a daughter he had outside his marriage to Jean.

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5. Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse was a famous British singer with quite a few Grammys under her belt. She died tragically at the age of 27. She didn’t create a will and died intestate. Under British law, the parents of Amy received all of her estate and money. There is now an ongoing legal battle.

This is definitely not an ideal situation. We will never know what Amy Winehouse wanted to do with her money and to whom she wanted it to go in case of her death.

Famous Politicians, Businesspeople, and Others Who Died Without a Will

Politicians hold the future of our nations, whereas businessmen hold the keys to the world’s economic stability in their hands. It is hard to think that such people would die without making a will.

The length of probate court varies and can take years to settle. However, this has been the case several times and has caused problems for heirs and loved ones. Let’s take a look at a few other famous people who died without a will.

6. Badri Patarkatsishvili

Badri Patarkatsishvili was a Jewish businessman based in Georgia (the country). He became involved in politics and ran in the Georgian Presidential Election in 2008. He was the force behind many of the most successful companies in Russia. He was a man of humble origins but became one of Georgia’s wealthiest individuals and a philanthropist.

He died intestate in Feb 2008, and the distribution of his estate resulted in a great legal battle.

7. Salvatore Phillip Bono

Actor, singer, and politician Sonny Bono died an untimely death due to a skiing accident in 1998. His grieving widow had to go to court to get herself appointed as the administrator of his estate. 

Moreover, his ex-wife also showed up at the courthouse and claimed a part of the Bono Estate. A little while later, a love-child of Mr. Bono surfaced that complicated the situation even further. He was an amazing singer who had delved into politics. The estate was finally divided between Mary and Sonny’s two children.

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8. Howard Hughes

Howard Hughes was an eccentric American billionaire, an engineer, a philanthropist, a film director, and a record-setting pilot. After reading this, you might be wondering how such a man could forget to make a will in case of his death. 

He died at the age of 70 in 1976, and after several wills were brought forward and found to be forgeries, the courts determined Huges died intestate. After lengthy court proceedings, the estate was then distributed amongst Hughes’ 22 cousins.

9. Abraham Lincoln

Who hasn’t heard of Abraham Lincoln, the charismatic and influential president of the United States? He was not only the first president to be assassinated but was also the first president of the US to die intestate. 

What is shocking here is that he was a lawyer himself! His estate was divided between his wife and his two sons equally after more than two years.

10. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. played a pivotal role in helping African Americans to obtain full rights and liberty. Since he was a civil rights activist, he frequently received death threats. 

What is disturbing is that even though he was assassinated quite a long time ago in 1968, his family is still fighting a legal battle regarding the control of his estate. King’s children battled over keeping his personal traveling Bible and Nobel Peace Prize Medal in 2014. Moreover, they were at odds regarding how the organization that oversaw the estate should be run.

All this could have been easily avoided had Dr. King created a will during his life.

11. Steve McNair

Steve McNair, the famous NFL quarterback, left this world in 2009 in a murder-suicide. He didn’t leave a signed will behind though he had expressed that he wanted his family taken care of in event of his death. His estate was initially tied up in litigation and a battle ensued.

While alive he had gifted his mother a home, though didn’t sign the deed in her name. His wife has since sued his mother and evicted her from the house since she couldn’t pay the $3,000 rent she now requires. All of these issues could have been resolved with a single piece of paper.

12. Robert Holmes à Court

Robert Holmes à Court was an Australian entrepreneur born in South Africa. He was the first person in Australia who became a billionaire. He died suddenly at the age of 53 in 1990 due to a heart attack. His shareholdings and his property at the time of his death were almost $460 million, with almost $154 million cash reserves were present in the family’s private company, the Heytesbury Holdings. 

Since he died intestate, his property and estate were divided and given to his 4 children and his wife. The wife received 1/3 of the estate while the rest was divided equally amongst the children.

Look Out for Your Loved Ones, Make a Will

The lesson that should be learned from these famous people who died without a will is that if you don’t leave a will, you might just leave a mess instead.

Not only will thousands have to be spent in lawyers’ fees to settle your estate, but the people you love may not get what you wish since your estate will be divided in accordance with the laws of intestacy and will not be distributed according to your wishes. 

Make sure to talk with lawyers and get your will checked out and thoroughly vetted. Find out about who can see a will before death and other technicalities with proper legal help. 

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  8. Contributing Writers. “The Howard Hughes Estate: A Cautionary Tale.” Estate Planning and Wills, Gordon Fischer Law Firm, February 15, 2019. gordonfischerlawfirm.com/howard-hughes-estate/.
  9. Mayoras, Andy and Danielle. “Are You Better Prepared Than Lincoln Was?” Personal Finance, Forbes, December 4, 2012. forbes.com/sites/trialandheirs/2012/12/04/are-you-better-prepared-than-abraham-lincoln-was/#61dd0c971cca.
  10. Jarvie, Jenny. “Legal Feud Among Martin Luther King’s Children on Display in Court.” World and Nation, Los Angeles Times, January 13, 2015. latimes.com/nation/la-na-mlk-children-lawsuit-hearing-20150113-story.html.
  11. Winters, Sabrina. “Two Years Later and Steve McNair’s Estate Drama Continues.” Estate and Elder Law, Lexis Nexis Publications, August 18, 2011. lexisnexis.com/legalnewsroom/estate-elder/b/estate-elder-blog/posts/two-years-later-and-steve-mcnair-s-estate-drama-continues.
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