On July 3, 1971, Doors lead singer and lyricist Jim Morrison died in Paris at the age of 27. He was at the peak of his earning power at the time, and his estate was going to earn royalties into perpetuity.
Did the freewheeling Morrison have the foresight to put an estate plan in place? Let’s look at the details, and they provide some lessons that apply to everyone.
Jim Morrison’s Will
Many people are surprised to hear that Morrison did in fact have a will in place. It left everything to his common-law wife, Pamela Courson, if she lived for at least three months after his passing. She did in fact pass the threshold, but she did not receive the inheritance immediately.
Lawsuits were filed by other members of the band and women that claimed that they had children by Morrison. His parents were also interested in the outcome, and they questioned the legality of the common-law marriage.
Ultimately, in 1974, a court found that Courson was the rightful heir to the estate. However, she died later in the same year, and Morrison’s estate plan did not account for this contingency.
Unlike Morrison, she did not have a will, and her parents were in line to inherit her resources under intestate succession laws. In the will that Morrison left behind, he named his brother and sister as alternate beneficiaries if Courson did not survive for the 90-day period. As a result, we know that he would have wanted them to be his heirs under the circumstances.
Nevertheless, Courson’s parents contended that they were the rightful heirs. At the same time, Morrison’s parents had an entirely different opinion as you might imagine. They initiated legal actions, and ultimately, the two parties reached a settlement.
Morrison was very outspoken about his disdain for his parents. In addition, there is no reason to think that he had any particular affection for Courson’s parents. Nevertheless, they wound up receiving his enormous fortune because he did not plan his estate properly.
If he would have used a trust, he could have included contingency plans to address all eventualities. He certainly had the money to engage an attorney to construct a plan that would facilitate the desired outcome.
There is another element at play here as well. At the time of his death, the federal estate tax carried 77 percent top rate, and the exclusion was just $60,000. The exclusion is the amount that can be transferred tax-free, and the rest is potentially subject to taxation.
Once again, an estate planning attorney could have recommended an estate tax efficiency strategy. It would have saved an enormous amount of money that was presumably going to be inherited by his common-law wife.
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