Going for It: Rapid Reinvention

The rich and the dead

It always amazes me the things that set off conversation at the beauty salon. It can be a phone call one of the women gets from her husband, an e-mail someone gets from a friend, a magazine article, in my case the other day, a book I was reading for this blog.

"What are they fighting about?" asked my stylist, Bridgette, noting the title, "Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights" by legacy expert attorneys Andrew and Danielle Mayoras.

"Dead people's money," I said.

"Who's in there?" she asked.

Heath Ledger, Flo-Jo, Sonny Bono, Martin Luther King Jr., former Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger, former baseball great Ted Williams, Lady Diana. There are also stories of folks who did it right, like the late Ted Kennedy, and those who are still alive, like Whitney Houston.

I read aloud the account of the fight over the estate of Jimi Hendrix, who died in 1970 at age 27 of a drug overdose intestate, meaning without a will. The book talked about how the father who didn't raise Jimi ended up with his money and passed it on to a half-sister who barely knew Jimi, giving very little to the brother with whom Jimi was very close. The estate was finally settled, kind of, in 2004.

The book touched off a discussion that lasted for the two hours I was there. I wondered what precipitated its writing, so I reached out the authors via e-mail and they graciously responded to some questions.

1. What advice would you give to help people protect their part of a loved one's wealth?
The first step is open and frank conversation, and the second is working with a good
attorney. Throughout "Trial & Heirs" we offer tips to avoid family fights and ideas to
spark discussion to give people concrete ways to protect themselves and their

2. Could Hendrix's brother have done anything to protect himself?

It depends on who you believe. If you believe his half-sister, Janie, the best thing Leon, his brother, could have done would have been to not alienate his father, who, Janie said, grew tired of his demands for money. If, on the other hand, Leon was right and his father only disinherited him because Janie coerced him into doing so, Leon could have worked with a good attorney. Of course, if Leon had convinced Jimi to create a will or trust, then this probably would not have been an issue.

3. If you are cheated, how much faith should you put in the court system to do something about it?
The system is far from perfect, but you do have rights. Talk to a qualified attorney and
see what they are. The system may be able to help you more than you realize, but don't
expect it to be quick or easy.

4. Why did you write this book?
We wanted to encourage families to talk about wills and trusts, motivate them to do their
estate planning, and help them avoid family fights. Using celebrity stories engages readers and translates an often uncomfortable subject into something entertaining.

It did. The book also ignited a lively discussion with family and friends during a holiday gathering. Everybody who has read or discussed it has pledged to get their financial affairs in order. You can't take it with you, so you want to organize your affairs so that they won't cause a hassle among your loved ones when you go.


Avis Thomas-Lester

 |  December 1, 2009; 1:19 PM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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