Celebrity disk jockey DJ AM, also known as Adam Michael Goldstein, was considered by many to be the best -- or at least most famous -- DJ around. He dated models and Hollywood stars, performed regularly with famous singers and rappers, and was hired to play music at the biggest celebrity parties.
He was found dead in his New York apartment on August 28th, from a drug overdose. At this point, it's unclear whether he committed suicide or not. He was 36.
This week, his mother filed to open a probate estate for Goldstein's assets, in Los Angeles. Interestingly, the probate paperwork filed by her attorney indicates that it is undetermined whether he died "testate" -- with a will -- or "intestate" -- without a will. Goldstein's mother lists herself as the only heir, because she is the only surviving parent. Goldstein was unmarried and had no children.
Under California's intestate laws, if no will surfaces, this would mean that Goldstein's sister would not inherit anything; everything would go to his mother. Is that consistent with what Goldstein would have wanted? It doesn't matter. When someone dies without a will -- even if everyone knows what he or she would have wanted -- the law decides who inherits.
That's why no one should wait for tomorrow to do their estate planning. Suicide or not, Goldstein should have been prepared for his death. Maybe he had friends, charities, or other family members he would have preferred to receive something. If no will is found, his wishes (whatever they may have been) would be ignored.
This happens far too often. In fact, some studies show that almost two-thirds of adult Americans don't even have a basic will. This includes many wealthy and famous people who should know better, like former NFL star Steve McNair.
In DJ AM's case, this could amount to a substantial mistake. The probate documents list Goldstein's property as having a rough value of $3.9 million, but with an outstanding mortgage or two totaling $2.9 million. But, these totals don't include whatever money may come in from a lawsuit that Goldstein had filed because of the serious injuries he suffered from an airplane crash in September, 2008. They also don't include any royalties his estate may receive from recordings.
The lawsuit is one of the reasons his mother filed to open the probate estate before knowing whether or not there was a will. Her lawyer reported to the court that Goldstein had a deal on the table to sell his house, and the lawyers handling his personal injury claim were trying to negotiate a settlement. She asked the court to allow her to administer the estate so she could sell the house and settle the lawsuit.
Ms. Goldstein's decision to open the estate and seek this authority is not surprising. When a person who filed a personal injury lawsuit dies, someone has to be appointed to administer the estate for the lawsuit to continue.
What is surprising is the question regarding whether a will exists. Either Goldstein didn't have a will, or if he did, his mother cannot locate it (at least not yet).
What good is a will if no one can find it? When you take the time to create a will or trust, store it someplace safe -- like a safety deposit box, fireproof safe, a trusted attorney's office, or the local probate court (where residents are often allowed to store original wills for safekeeping).
Also, make sure that your named administrator or trustee -- and at least one or two others -- know how to find your estate planning documents. Why not make it easier for your loved ones?
But, DJ AM was only 36 -- can you really expect him to worry about this stuff? YES! You never know when tragedy will strike. His plane crash is a perfect example. Don't wait until tomorrow to address your estate plan. Have that conversation you've been putting off with your loved ones today.
Posted by: Author and probate attorney Andrew W. Mayoras, co-author of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! and co-founder and shareholder of The Center for Probate Litigation and The Center for Elder Law in metro-Detroit, Michigan, which concentrate in probate litigation, estate planning, and elder law. You can email him at awmayoras @ brmmlaw.com.Follow us on Google+