The Tony Curtis Estate held an auction this weekend to unload hundreds of memorabilia, articles of clothing and other property belonging to the famed actor who died last September at age 85, after years of poor health. Julien’s Auction House in Beverly Hills, California, conducted the online auction and raised more than one million dollars. The money went to the benefit of Tony’s widow and fifth wife, Jill Vandenberg Curtis, with a portion going to the couple’s charity.
So how much did his five children, including actress Jamie Lee Curtis, stand to receive from this? Absolutely nothing.
Tony Curtis redid his Will and Trust in May of last year, a few months before he died from cardiac arrest. When he did so, he cut out all of his children. His will lists all five by name — including Jamie Lee — and states that he intentionally disinherited them. No reason was given in his will.
His children were shocked by it and are not happy. And this weekend’s auction only made it worse.
Daughter Allegra Curtis said in an interview that the family was upset because the widow, Jill, was the only one to benefit from the auction. She arranged for it without telling his children. Even more upsetting, Allegra said she did not offer them anything of sentimental value to remember their father by.
But not everything brought in the big bucks. Tony’s widow also sold personal letters sent between her husband and many celebrities, such as Cary Grant, Picasso, Ted Kennedy, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. She unloaded Navy medals and commemorations, as well as Hollywood awards and medals, including Tony’s Hollywood Walk of Fame Plaque. She parted with personal handwritten drawings of his, and even his casino membership cards (which someone paid $192 for, in case you’re curious). In all, there were almost 500 items sold. One would think that she could have spared something for his children.
Allegra Curtis says her father wouldn’t have wanted this. She feels he “deserves better” than to have his estate disseminated this way.
Julien’s auctioneer Darren Julien disagreed. He told The Hollywood Reporter that Tony personally came into the auction house. Julien said, “I know this was exactly what he wanted.”
Allegra also gave a recent interview to Inside Edition and told the TV show that she and her siblings were “all blindsided” by his estate. Not surprisingly, she said that being cut out of Tony’s will and trust was very painful for them. She feels her father was subject to improper influence which resulted in the change in his inheritance plans.
Daughter Kelly Lee Curtis did more than raise accusations to the press. She took the next step and sued over her father’s Trust, accusing the widow Jill or others of convincing Tony to change who he left his money to, through “duress, menace, fraud, or undue influence.” That lawsuit is still open and pending in a Las Vegas court.
Jill counters by saying that not only was Tony very specific with his final wishes, but he actually told his children about disinheriting them before he died. She says Tony had a difficult relationship with his kids at time, but it was between them, not her.
So far, actress Jamie Lee Curtis has stayed out of the fray. That could change if the lawsuit makes it to trial, and she could be called as a witness.
It’s a sad but all too common story, for celebrities and non-celebrities alike. Second-marriage situations — or fifth marriages like this one — often spark dramatic family feuds. The situation is never helped when the surviving widow is younger than some of the children, as in this case. Jill was 42 years younger than Tony and is about 11 years younger than Tony’s eldest, Kelly.
When the will and trust exclude the children entirely in favor of the spouse, you can almost guarantee a family fight in court. People in that situation should think long and hard about whether completely disinheriting the children really makes sense for anyone.
And certainly, it makes doing the proper estate planning more important. It’s hard to please everyone. That’s why couples that have children from prior marriages should work with an experienced estate planning lawyer early — and not make a change a few months before death. The earlier that people sign their wills and trusts, the harder it is for disappointed relatives to successfully sue for mental incompetency or undue influence.
These types of lawsuits are never easy on anyone. Hopefully, the Curtis family will come to a fair resolution sooner, rather than later.
By Danielle and Andy Mayoras, co-authors of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights!, husband-and-wife legacy expert attorneys, and hosts of the national television special, Trial & Heirs: Protect Your Family Fortune! For the latest celebrity and high-profile cases, with tips to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your clients, click here to subscribe to The Trial & Heirs Update. You can “like” them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter and Google+.