Skip to content
330-588-6115 4842 Higbee Ave. NW Canton, OH 44718
Celebrity Estate Planning Fails

Estate Planning Fails: Celebrity Edition

Even the rich and famous aren’t immune to making mistakes when it comes to estate planning. When celebrities pass away, their estates often become public and messy affairs. This is the case for the late Elvis Presley, Whitney Houston, and Prince. Let’s explore their estate planning mishaps and learn valuable lessons from their estate planning fails.

Elvis Presley: The King of “Tax” Rock and Roll

Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll, passed away in 1977 without a proper estate plan in place. His intestate estate, valued at approximately $10 million at the time of his death, was left to his daughter Lisa Marie Presley, who was just 9 years old at the time, under the care of Elvis’ father, Vernon, and his grandmother, Minnie Mae.

This situation presented the first major complication: the challenge of a minor inheriting a large estate. When minors inherit, a guardian must be appointed to manage the assets until the child becomes of legal age. In Elvis’s case, this was his father, Vernon. However, guardianships can be a complex, costly (not to mention completely public) process that involves ongoing court supervision, annual accounting, and significant legal fees.

Moreover, the guardian may not always make decisions in the best financial interest of the minor or in line with what the deceased might have wanted. In many cases, a trust for the benefit of the minor could have been a better option, providing more control over how and when assets are distributed.

The Taxing Consequences of a Missing Estate Plan

A major complication that resulted from the deficiency in Elvis’s estate plan was the complete lack of tax planning. Following the death of Vernon Presley, Elvis’s father, two years later, this flaw became glaringly evident. The estate was confronted with a massive tax obligation of around $7 million. This unexpected financial burden compelled the executors to liquidate assets to cover the tax debt. Among the assets sold were a considerable fraction of Elvis’s intellectual property rights. This not only reduced the value of the estate but also meant the loss of ongoing revenue from these rights, further complicating the financial situation of the estate.

Lesson: Minimize Tax Liabilities and Plan for Minor Heirs

Proper estate planning includes considering potential tax liabilities and the situation if minors are to inherit. By implementing appropriate strategies, such as creating trusts or gifting assets during one’s lifetime, you can minimize your estate’s tax burden and ensure the assets are managed and distributed according to your wishes, especially when the heirs are minors.

Whitney Houston and the Incomplete Will

Whitney Houston, one of the best-selling music artists of all time, had her will drafted before the birth of her only child, Bobbi Kristina Brown. Although the will was updated following Bobbi Kristina’s birth, it had a significant oversight: it failed to include any provisions for the unfortunate scenario where Bobbi Kristina would pass away without any heirs of her own.

Sadly, this exact situation occurred when Bobbi Kristina died in 2015, just a few years after her mother’s passing. This oversight left Houston’s estate – valued at an estimated $20 million – in a state of legal limbo, sparking a lengthy and costly probate process that took years to resolve.

The complications were further exacerbated by disagreements among family members over the distribution of Houston’s assets, leading to bitter legal battles. The absence of clear instructions on what should happen to the assets in the event of Bobbi Kristina’s death led to uncertainty and conflict, resulting in a difficult and tense situation for all involved.

Moreover, as with Elvis’s estate, Houston’s estate also faced potential tax liabilities. Without a detailed estate plan accounting for potential tax issues, the estate may have been subjected to unnecessary taxes, further reducing the net value of the estate to be distributed among the heirs.

Lesson: Create a Comprehensive Plan & Do Regular Updates to Keep Your Estate Plan Current

The Whitney Houston estate case highlights the importance of ensuring that your estate plan is comprehensive and anticipates various scenarios, including the possibility of your beneficiaries passing away before or shortly after you. It’s not enough to simply update your estate plan when there are significant changes in your life, like the birth of a child. Regular reviews and updates to your plan are essential to reflect the changing circumstances in your life and of your beneficiaries. Furthermore, it’s vital to consider and plan for potential tax liabilities to ensure your heirs receive the maximum benefit from your estate.

Prince: The Purple Rain of Estate Complications

Prince, the iconic musician known for timeless hits like “Purple Rain” and “When Doves Cry,” died unexpectedly in 2016 without an estate plan in place. His death at the age of 57 left his estimated $200 million estate in a state of chaos and disarray.

The absence of a will significantly escalated the complexity of the distribution process for Prince’s estate. Prince left no surviving spouse or known children, so under Minnesota law, his estate was to be distributed among his six siblings. However, without an estate plan in place to clearly outline his intentions, the probate court found itself in the thick of a complicated task. The court had to validate a multitude of claims from alleged heirs, leading to an exhaustive and protracted (and very public) legal process that took years to resolve.

The Fate of Prince’s Intellectual Property

Adding to the distribution complexities was Prince’s valuable music catalogue, an immense treasure trove that included hundreds of unreleased songs. This catalogue represented a significant portion of Prince’s estate, but in the absence of clear directives from Prince himself, the executors of his estate were left to speculate about his intentions for this intellectual property. This lack of clarity led to further disputes and delays in the resolution of his estate.

Costly Tax Consequences

On top of these challenges, the lack of an estate plan exposed Prince’s estate to severe estate tax complications. As of 2021, Prince’s estate and the IRS were embroiled in a bitter dispute over the valuation of the estate and, consequently, the amount of estate tax owed. The IRS claims that Prince‚Äôs assets were undervalued by 50%, leading to an additional tax bill of $32.4 million, plus a $6.4 million penalty for accuracy-related issues.

Lesson: Plan Ahead to Protect Your Legacy

Regardless of the size of your estate, having an estate plan in place is crucial. It not only facilitates the distribution of your assets according to your wishes but also prevents potential legal battles among your heirs. And for those who own intellectual property, an estate plan also provides clear instructions about how you want these assets managed.


From unforeseen tax liabilities and the complications of minors inheriting large estates, to the protracted legal battles resulting from the absence of a will, these cases underscore the importance of having a comprehensive and up-to-date estate plan. Estate planning is not just for the rich and famous, but for anyone who wishes to ensure their assets are distributed according to their desires and to spare their loved ones unnecessary legal complications and stress.

Danielle PierceAt Pierce Legal, we specialize in custom-tailored estate plans that account for each client’s unique situation. Our team understands that every individual and family is different, and we work diligently to ensure that your estate plan reflects your wishes, protects your loved ones, and preserves your assets. Don’t wait until it is too late. Avoid the mistakes made by these celebrities by contacting Pierce Legal today to discuss your estate planning needs. We are here to guide you through the process, providing the peace of mind that comes from knowing your estate will be handled exactly as you wish.


Related Articles

Saying ‘I Do’ to Estate Planning: Why Engaged Couples Should Think About the Future
Echoes from the Crypt: Edgar Allen Poe and the Tale of the Unplanned Estate
The 6 Major Perils of Relying Solely on Beneficiary Designations in Estate Planning

Back To Top