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Celebrity Mistakes: Put It in Writing

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Marlon Brando's assistant says he made her an offer she couldn't refuse—a furnished home for her, her children and her sister.

The catch: He would keep the house in his name for tax purposes and then transfer the deed to her before his death.

The problem: That day never came because Brando became too ill to follow through and eventually died. The assistant was later evicted from the Los Angeles home. She said Brando's executors took advantage of him and filed a lawsuit seeking $2 million for the proceeds of the house sale and emotional damages.

So, the lesson is clear: A promise is better kept when you put it in writing—that means in the form of a will or living trust, prepared by a qualified attorney.

In a similar vein, we go from don to Di.

While Princess Diana did have a will, she also penned a "letter of wishes," leaving personal items to her godchildren instead of specifying what those wishes were in her will. Because of the vague nature of the letter, her godchildren received small trinkets, "a tatty brown box containing some pieces of Herend china wrapped in old newspaper."

Parents of the godchildren filed a lawsuit contending that each was supposed to receive assets estimated to be worth 310,000 British pounds (about $485,750) per child. The courts eventually sided with the executors, however.

Family Matters

And if you don't think a lack of planning can hurt family, take a look at Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix, who once made a guitar howl the national anthem at Woodstock, died without a will. The courts named his father, Al, the sole beneficiary to his $80 million estate, which continues to generate money from royalties.

Al died in 2002 and gave everything to his adopted stepdaughter, Janie. Hendrix's brother, Leon, didn't receive anything. The dispute got nasty, pitting two sides of the family against one another. Eventually Janie, whom Hendrix only met a few times, got everything. Leon received nothing.

And when Sonny Bono died without a will in 1998, a secret love child surfaced to claim a portion of Bono's estate, along with ex-wife Cher and widow Mary Bono. Awkward? Yes. Avoidable? Yes.

The lesson: A will isn't just an instructional on how to distribute your assets, it's a testament to your values and an opportunity to reflect upon whom you care about most.

Put Your Values in Writing

If you are interested in including a gift to The Hunger Project in your will, please contact Jim Goodman, JD, CAP® at 1-800-228-6691 or jim.goodman@thp.org for more information.

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The information on this website is not intended as legal or tax advice. For legal or tax advice, please consult an attorney. Figures cited in examples are for hypothetical purposes only and are subject to change. References to estate and income taxes apply to federal taxes only. State income/estate taxes or state law may impact your results.