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What do Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson, Andy Rooney of 60 Minutes, Ernest Hemingway’s cats, and many regular folks have in common?

From time to time we learn about famous people whose dirty laundry is hung out for all to see. Worse yet, needless expensive financial challenges against their estates often reveal the most intricate of private details. What follows in today’s newsletter are classic examples of what occurs when proper planning is not timely implemented.

Stories of the Rich and Famous

Many of us remember the folksy and candid final word on CBS 60 Minutes by commentator Andy Rooney. He died in November 2011, and his Last Will and Testament was filed for probate in Manhattan Surrogate's Court. According to public records, his wife, Margie, of 62 years died in 2004, and his Will left his entire estate of $9 million dollars to his four children. Total estate taxes were approximately $2.3 million, leaving about $1.65 million to be distributed to each child.

When his son, Brian Rooney, was asked about why his father's estate was not kept private - and why large estate taxes were incurred - he responded that his father lived frugally and “wasn't into fancy estate planning." According to public court records, Andy Rooney – or his legal counsel - did a very poor job with regard to his estate planning. Both the $2.3 million in estate taxes, and the many revealing personal details, could have been easily avoided with some simple planning. Then Andy Rooney could have had the final word on his estate.

Davy Jones of the Monkeys died in 2012. According to the Martin County, Florida probate docket, the Last Will and Testament of David T. Jones was signed March 30, 2004, before he married his third wife, actress Jessica Pacheco, in August 2009. Davy had four daughters with his first wife, Linda Haines, and two with his second wife, Anita Pollinger.

But hay, hay, a motion was filed with the Probate Court by Jones’ oldest daughter, Talia, from his first marriage, to seal the court file. It was argued before the court that she was concerned about the public's access to personal information, which could have a material effect on his copyrights, royalties and ongoing goodwill. In other words, giving the public access to monkey around with probate court records could result in financial harm to the estate and, in turn, its beneficiaries. After considerable legal fees and disclosure of personal information, the court granted the motion. With proper estate planning the public disclosure and legal fees could have all been avoided.

Britney Spears’ home was sold through Probate Court after she suffered a mental breakdown. Ooops, it happened again, when personal and confidential details revealed that the Beverly Hills $6.8 million home of pop star Britney Spears came on the market for the bargain price of $2.995 million after she suffered a mental breakdown. Ms. Spears has continued under a court ordered supervised conservatorship due to her fragile mental condition, with her father, Jamie Spears, acting as her conservator.

Personal details in the public records reveal that the appointment of her fiancé, Jason Trawick, as a co-conservator was apparently done at the suggestion of Simon Cowell to facilitate contract negotiations on the sale of the home, and aimed at making Britney a judge on the TV show, The X Factor. Sad to say, but had Ms. Spears taken proper advance steps to appoint someone to act on her behalf through a Durable Power of Attorney, and placed her assets into an international trust, she could have keep her private parts, well, private.

Whitney Houston’s Last Will and Testament and codicils were admitted into Probate Court of Fulton County, Georgia. According to public records, her estate is in a trust naming Whitney's only child, Bobbi Kristina Brown, as heir. Whitney's mother, Cissy Houston, is named as the Trustee. Marion P. Houston, Whitney’s sister-in-law and manager, was named as the Administrator of the Will. Whitney’s daughter, Bobbi, is currently 20 years old, and when she reaches the age of 30 she receives the estate. Here is a copy of the court order admitting the Will and trust into probate.

While it appears Whitney Houston died with a properly executed Will and trust, a properly drafted international trust would generally not be made public in a court proceeding. The trust itself, and all details of the trust, could have been kept confidential. In addition, asset protection planning during Whitney’s lifetime could have protected her from frivolous lawsuits, allowing her to dance with somebody (who loves her).

The speculation over Grammy winning singer Amy Winehouse’s death was about who would inherit her estate. After her death from alcohol poisoning in 2011, it was discovered she did not have a Will or trust, so under local intestacy laws her parents, the next of kin, inherited Ms. Winehouse's estate. According to public records, the estimated value of the estate, after paying for all debts and taxes, was approximately $4.5 million.

This is not only another example of unnecessary public disclosure of personal and financial matters, but a lesson that if no - or improper - estate planning is put into place, after your government takes its share, it then determines who will get the rest. Yes, Ms. Winehouse could have easily avoided each of these issues, and might have then better focused on rehab.

When Princesses Diana died she left behind an approximately US $30 million dollar estate. She left equal shares to sons, Prince William and Prince Henry, and each were scheduled to receive approximately US $15 million when they turned 30 years of age, according to Diana’s Last Will and Testament signed in February 1996, and filed with the court. But the executors of Princess Diana's estate, her mother, Frances Ruth Shand Kydd, and her oldest sister, Lady Elizabeth, did not like the provisions of Diana’s Will and successfully petitioned the Probate Court to change the terms. The changes to the Will now only provide for a portion of Princess Diana's estate to be distributed to each of her princely sons at the age of 30.

Had Princess Diana held her assets in a properly drafted trust, and disposed of her estate under the terms set forth therein, then it likely would have been impossible to change the terms of disposition to her sons. At least then there would be one less Internet conspiracy to read about.  

Some like it hot, and Marilyn Monroe’s estate has been involved in numerous heated legal battles. Of particular significance to the heirs is the failed lawsuit lost to prevent the son of fashion and celebrity photographer Milton H. Greene from selling Monroe's images without paying the estate for the photographs. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that Monroe was domiciled in the state of New York at the time of her death, and that New York law prohibited Monroe's estate from enforcing the actress's posthumous rights to publicity.

Considerable personal and confidential facts were disclosed during the estate’s litigation of the case, including a thorough review of 40 years of private facts and details leading up to the time of Marilyn’s death in her Brentwood, California home. When she died in 1962, Marilyn's estate was worth about $370,000, which would grow into $2.17 million by 2001. Her estate now earns about $4 million a year from licensing her image on everything from posters to coffee mugs.

There is big money to be made from buying and selling Marilyn Monroe memorabilia. As Marilyn famously once stated, “If you're going to be two-faced, at least make one of them pretty.” But there’s nothing pretty about facing up to personal and private disclosure of personal details, including at least two important contributions: the first that her estate is now worth $27 million, and the second of which escapes me. At least her financial matters could easily have been kept private through an international trust.

Administering dead celebrities’ ongoing estates is big business. Marilyn’s estate is only topped by Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley in earning power.

Michael Jackson’s trust is no thriller. But Michael’s Last Will and Testament became public as soon as it was filed with the Los Angeles County Superior Court. The Will was signed on July 7, 2002, and the entire estate was left to the Trustees of the Michael Jackson Family Trust, as amended and restated on March 22, 2002. Jackson's former wife, Deborah Jean Rowe Jackson, was intentionally omitted as a beneficiary, and Michael’s mother, Katherine, was named as guardian for his minor children. Diana Ross was named as the backup guardian.

Michael's Will was actually a Pour Over Will (the type we typically create with a trust-based estate plan), and pours over any non-trust assets into the Michael Jackson Family Trust.

Since Michael’s trust was created with sufficient planning aimed towards privacy and confidentiality, punters are left to only speculate about the provisions of the Michael Jackson Family Trust. If the trust provisions continue to work the way they’re supposed to, who gets what, how and when, will never be known. So just beat it, as that’s the way an estate plan and properly drafted trust is supposed to work. 

Finally, Ernest Hemingway’s famous cats are now under US Government control. Mr. Hemingway died in July 1961 and a local woman, Bernice Dixon, purchased his home in Key West, Florida for $80,000, along with the infamous cat Snowball, and the related polydactyl resident cats (six toes instead of five). Ms. Dixon opened the home up for museum tours, along with between 50 to 60 decedents of the famous cat.

In 2003 a visitor filed a complaint with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) regarding the museum's care of the famous felines, complaining about the cats in the rain. This prompted a USDA inspection which led to the conclusion that the museum is an "animal exhibitor" and therefore subject to USDA regulation under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA).

After numerous appeals and various levels of court decisions, it was held by the court that the museum, as an animal exhibitor, must maintain an animal exhibitor's license, contain and cage the 50 to 60 wild cats in individual shelters at night, or hire a night watchman to monitor the cats. Each cat must be tagged for identification purposes, elevated resting surfaces must be created for the cats, and the museum must pay fines for past non-compliance with the AWA. Not a snowball’s chance in hell, you think?

Many individuals create trusts with special purposes provisions built into their trust. Special purposes can include charitable contributions, or legacies, or in the case of Mr. Hemingway, Snowball’s descendants. Absent customized provisions and funding built into a trust, the mindless meddling of government bureaucrats, and others, can create huge financial burdens for the heirs, even when the heirs are arguably six toed polydactyl felines.

It’s no laughing matter 

Proper estate planning begins with protecting your assets today – otherwise known as asset protection – and integrates other life issues that you are routinely confronted with during later years. This includes provisions for when death is all but imminent, and how to administer your estate after your death. Improper estate planning is simply no laughing matter.

The good news is that you don’t need to fall into the same trap as the above celebrities. With timely estate planning integrated into an international trust with asset protection, you can protect your assets – and your privacy – during your lifetime, and after your death. Your personal details don’t need to suffer the same humiliation as in the above stories.

We routinely implement highly confidential private international trusts for our clients. For those assets not placed directly into the trust, we create Pour Over Wills so assets can be disposed of following death without probate courts and nosey neighbors looking into your private parts.

Durable Power of Attorneys establish relationships with trusted individuals that can manage your financial and health care affairs during a long or short term disability. And a simple Living Will can keep emotional and financial hardships to a minimum when death is all but certain.

And naturally, through a properly, implemented international trust, you have the opportunity to enjoy the maximum level of privacy and asset protection during your lifetime. For these and more benefits follow this link to learn more.

How to Legally Protect Your Assets and Offshore Living & Investing are two great books that include an overview on the above topics, and much more.

And if you’re interested in starting a confidential review to learn about your planning options, use this link to get started.

Until next time……


David A Tanzer, Esq.
JD, BSc, Ph.D (Hon)
For more information visit or email to David is the author of “How to Legally Protect Your Assets” and “Offshore Living and Investing.”
David A Tanzer & Assoc., PC.
Vail, CO USA:
Tel. (970) 476-6100
Fax (720) 293-2272
Auckland, New Zealand:
Tel. (64) 9 353-1328
Fax (64) 9 353-1328
Brisbane, Australia:
Tel. (61) 7 3319 6999
Fax (61) 7 3319 6999
(Licensed to Practice Law in U.S. States & Federal Courts; Assoc. Member Auckland, N.Z. District Law Society - Foreign Lawyer; & Assoc. Member Queensland Law Society, AU - Foreign Lawyer)
The comments herein are not intended to constitute a legal or tax opinion regarding any specific legal or tax issue as additional issues may exist; does not reach a conclusion with respect to any specific legal or tax issue addressed herein or any additional issues not included; and cannot be used for the purpose of avoiding legal or tax obligations or penalties with respect to issues in or outside the scope of matters discussed herein.

(c) Copyright by David A. Tanzer & Associates, P.C. All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the United States Copyright Act of 1976, as amended, and pursuant to the laws of all countries, no part hereof may be reproduced or distributed in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, electronic or otherwise, without the prior written permission of David A. Tanzer & Associates, P.C. Reprint in whole or part strictly prohibited unless prior written permission is granted. International Copyright protected under the Berne Convention, Universal Copyright Convention  and laws of all other Copyright protected countries, and consistent with the World Trade Organization TRIPS.
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