The New York Times recently featured a story about the person universally recognized as one of the greatest chess players of all time. Robert James "Bobby" Fischer died from kidney disease on January 17, 2008 at the age of 64. He was buried in Iceland, where he lived for the last few years of his life.
He was a King in the game of chess and his life was anything but conventional. So why should Fischer's estate be simple?
Fischer scorned his 1972 world chess championship, renouncing it in 1975. He retreated from the world and turned his back on fame and fortune.
When he finally emerged for a rematch in 1992, he became a national fugitive. Why? Fischer ignored government warnings not to play the match in Yugoslavia, because of a trade embargo. This made him a criminal. He found refuge in Iceland, which granted him citizenship and prevented deportation.
Being a criminal was not his only character flaw. The former chess prodigy was deeply anti-Semitic, according to the Times article, despite having Jewish parents. The article also says he called a radio station in the Philippines after the 9/11 attacks and called it "a wonderful day."
Reportedly, when Fischer was diagnosed with kidney disease in 2007, he did not fully appreciate what would happen. He refused the painful treatments prescribed for him and died within a few months, without even a simple will.
This set the stage for a lengthy battle -- one that is still far from finished. The three-sided match pits his Japanese wife/girlfriend, Miyoko Watai, vs. a Filipino woman who says he fathered her daughter, Marilyn Young, vs. two estranged nephews. Reportedly, Fischer did not like that their parents practiced Judaism.
Watai (who also is a chess master) says that she and the chess champ were married in 2004, entitling her to at least a part of the estate. But an Icelandic court has already rejected her claim. She could still win on appeal, though.
Young says that her 9-year-old daughter, named Jinky, is the true heir. The Supreme Court of Iceland ordered Fischer's body exhumed for DNA testing to see if she's right.
If neither are found to be legitimate heirs, then the nephews will receive the inheritance. On the other hand, if both women win out, Watai would get one-third of the prize money with Jinky getting the rest.
So how much are they maneuvering for? Reportedly, somewhere between one to two million dollars. There's a very big "but" though.
The United States government isn't done with Fischer just because he fled to the frozen tundra of Iceland. The IRS says that Fischer never paid taxes on his $3.65 million payday from the 1992 chess championship rematch -- not to mention failing to pay taxes for 15 years before that.
In other words, even the winners of the match may find themselves in checkmate, with Uncle Sam being declared the new champ. You can read the full New York Times article here.
How could one of the smartest tacticians in the world have failed to make out a simple will? Friends say that he didn't believe he was dying.
So add this interesting tale to the long list of reasons why putting off your estate planning is never a good idea. Don't wait until you're going to die; who knows when that will be? Even without Japanese wives, Filipino kids, and distant relatives who don't share your religious views, do you really want your family fighting over your estate when you pass?
Go see an experienced estate planning attorney today. Protect the King, Queen, and all the little pawns in your life before it's too late.
Posted by: Andrew W. Mayoras and Danielle B. Mayoras, co-authors of Trial and Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! and co-founders 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. Andrew and Danielle are husband and wife attorneys, professional speakers and consultants across the country. Follow us on Facebook and Google+.