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August 2012

Monkey Business Surrounding Davy Jones Estate

After The Monkees frontman, Davy Jones, died of a heart attack at age 66 on February 29, 2012, his family took the very unusual step of having his will and related probate court documents sealed -- perhaps to shield family disharmony from public view.   Davy Jones

Wills, unlike living trusts, are public court documents and generally available for the public to read.  Because of this, you can find hundreds of celebrity wills online through simple internet searches (and it sure helped us write our book, Trial & Heirs:  Famous Fortune Fights!).

Davy's family, led by his oldest daughter, Talia Jones -- who has been named as the personal representative to administer the Estate -- asked the Judge to seal the file.  The request, according to this gossip website that obtained a copy of it, argued that the court should deny public access to his "planning documents and financial affairs as public opinion could have a material effect on his copyrights, royalties and ongoing goodwill."  The request was granted, without opposition.

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Learn From Celebrity Estate Planning Mistakes

As two lawyers who have written about celebrity estates for years and hosted the national television special Trial and Heirs: Protect Your Family Fortune! on PBS affiliates, we’ve noticed that stars often make the same big mistakes as people with very modest assets. It’s just the dollar amounts that differ.   Amy_Winehouse_in_2007

Learn from their goofs and avoid repeating them yourself. That way, you’ll protect your loved ones and be sure your inheritance wishes are carried out.

These are the top four estate-planning mistakes made by celebs — errors you’ll want to avoid:

 1. No will. Most of us naturally want to be sure our assets are distributed properly after we pass away, so it’s surprising that almost two-thirds of adults don’t even have simple wills. Whether you have millions of dollars or just a modest estate, estate planning is critical — starting with a will.

Unfortunately for the family of Amy Winehouse, the singer didn’t have a will when she unexpectedly passed away at age 27, leaving behind a $6.7 million estate.

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Rosa Parks' Legacy Stained By Court Feud, Accusations Of Corruption

Fighting over estates is never pretty.  These court battles are emotional, draining, and sometimes downright nasty for everyone involved.  When they happen to the estate of a beloved American icon, it’s even more tragic.  300px-Rosaparks8

Rosa Parks’ Estate has been embroiled in fighting since not long after she died on October 24, 2005 at the age of 92 in Detroit, Michigan.  You can read about the long history of the court battle, which we summarized in this Trial & Heirs article.  In short, the Michigan Supreme Court restored the rights of the primary beneficiaries to Rosa Parks’ estate plan, years after the probate court judge ordered that their rights had been forfeited.  Finally, it seemed that the fighting had reached its end.

Instead, the battle actually turned uglier than before.  The attorney representing those beneficiaries who rights were recently restored — Rosa Parks’ friend Elaine Steele and the charitable institute that Rosa Parks had created, which Steele operates — went on the attack again.  He took the highly-unusual step of suing the probate judge who oversees the Rosa Parks Estate, Hon. Freddie Burton, and the two lawyers whom the Judge had appointed to administer the Estate, John Chase, Jr. and Melvin Jefferson. 

In doing so, Steele’s attorney accused them of cronyism, corruption, over-charging the Estate and more.  The attorney issued a press release about it and the allegations received widespread press coverage nationally, including the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, ABC News, and many others.  Steele’s attorney went on a Detroit-area radio show and openly discussed how he felt that Judge Burton, Chase and Jefferson were corrupt and engaged in a conspiracy.  He even said he believed the Judge was taking bribes.  The attorney promised to have Judge Burton removed from the case and accused him of refusing to “give up his corrupt ways.”

Judge Burton dismissed the allegations Steele’s attorney raised and refused to step down from the case.  His decision not to disqualify himself was upheld by the chief judge of the Wayne County Probate Court.  Steele appealed the decision, and the Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal.  Steele will likely appeal again.

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