It's rough being Mick Jagger sometimes. Even as the front man for the famed Rolling Stones, he Can't Always Get What he Wants. But when he tries, at least sometimes, he just might find ... that he gets what he needs. These days, what Sir Mick (as he is known officially in England) truly needs is some peace and quiet ... and a little privacy. Is it too much to ask to Get Off of his Cloud?
Sir Mick took a beating in the media last week when a lawsuit that he had hoped to keep quiet became very public. That is what often happens with lawsuits involving those in the public eye, especially in this digital age. In many courts across the country -- federal courts especially, but more and more probate and other states courts too -- anyone who knows how to track down the electronic court records and is willing to pay a small cost can read all the juicy details about court battles from the comforts of their own home.
The Rolling Stones File Suit
Specifically, Rolling Stones-related companies filed a lawsuit in England against a series of insurance underwriters (affiliated with Lloyd's of London) for more than 12.6 million dollars (U.S.), seeking to collect on an insurance policy. The policy protected against cancellation of the Rolling Stones' planned 2014 Asia and Australia Tour, for unexpected reasons, such as the death of a loved one or a serious illness.
Mick Jagger's girlfriend, L'Wren Scott, was listed in the policy as one of the covered loved ones. When she committed suicide on March 17, 2014 -- about two weeks before the tour was to begin -- Jagger was understandably overcome with grief. The Stones tour was postponed.
Sir Mick was so upset, in fact, that he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and was told to take thirty days off from performing. This put the entire tour in jeopardy.
Doesn't this seem like the precise reason why a band would purchase tour cancellation insurance? The premium alone for the policy was more than one million dollars. Granted, It's Only Rock 'N Roll (But I Like It); still, this is big business we're talking about. The $12.6 million amount was the cost of rescheduling the tour. So why didn't the insurance companies pay up?
The problem was that they did not believe that Mick Jagger's diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder was legitimate. They opposed the insurance claim by arguing that Jagger was not seen in person by the doctor who issued the diagnosis, and the doc wasn't a psychologist or a psychiatrist. The insurers also pointed out that the policy had many exclusions -- such as when the death was not "sudden and unforeseen" and that it stemmed from a medical condition (specifically, L'Wren Scott's depression that apparently led to her suicide).
The Insurance Companies Hit Where It Hurts
Merely opposing the lawsuit in London wasn't enough, though. The insurance companies started two new legal proceedings -- in New York and Utah -- seeking the right to obtain information relevant to the lawsuit from people located in the United States. This is normal operating procedure when an overseas lawsuit involves witnesses, documents, or other important evidence that is located in this country. So, at first blush, the insurance companies were only following protocol.
The two new legal proceedings asked for the right to subpoena the executor of L'Wren Scott's estate, along with her personal assistant and even her brother. The Utah proceeding targeted at Scott's brother was especially broad -- asking for the right to obtain every email, text message, Facebook and Twitter message exchanged between the siblings in the six months before she died. The insurance companies also asked for Scott's medical and treatment records.
The Scott family was outraged that L'Wren's privacy would be violated in this fashion. A family member told England's The Daily Mail that they couldn't believe that Mick Jagger would pursue the lawsuit. The family member said he had enough money and his claim of being unstable after L'Wren's suicide was "ridiculous." The family reportedly pointed out how Jagger was already the beneficiary of L'Wren Scott's estate. This raised the question: Did Mick Jagger go too far seeking the insurance money?
A spokesman for Mick Jagger quickly refuted the reports, saying that the insurance lawsuit had already been resolved out of court -- after the time the Utah and New York legal proceedings were started (in mid-October) but before the media found the new court filings last week. The statement said that Jagger and his bandmates were very upset that the private details of their lives and those of their loved ones were placed into the public eye by the insurance filings here in the United States.
Was it a bit underhanded? Maybe. The insurance companies certainly could have asked to have the filings sealed before they were leaked to the media. But there was more than twelve million dollars at issue, and the gameplan of trying to Shine A Light on L'Wren Scott's mental illness certainly proved effective. The settlement occurred in the three weeks between the new court filings and the public release of the information, last week. Certainly Jagger didn't cherish being portrayed as a (Beast of) Burden to L'Wren Scott's family in the media.
Stones Lawsuit Has A Secret Player -- One That's Familiar to Michael Jackson Fans
But the real irony here is that Mick Jagger may not have been the one behind this whole mess. When the lawsuit was filed in Utah, it made the entire London lawsuit and the insurance policy itself a matter of public record. That record reveals that the true beneficiary of the insurance policy wasn't just the Rolling Stones. Rather, the named payee (i.e. the one who would receive the insurance payout) was concert promoter AEG Live. Remember that company? Michael Jackson fans sure do. The Jackson estate and AEG were in a similar insurance fight when Jackson's death caused his tour to be cancelled.
This means that, as the ultimate payee of the insurance policy, AEG Live would have at least participated in the lawsuit decisions, such as filing it in the first place and ultimately settling it, unless AEG Live had reached its own settlement with the insurance companies ahead of time, as it did in the Michael Jackson case.
Even if AEG Live wasn't controlling the decision making for the Stones' lawsuit, the matter still may not have been in Sir Mick's hands. The parties who started the case where two limited liability companies -- one owned by the various Rolling Stones band members and eight other musicians, and another that provided support personnel, equipment, and service to the band during the tour. This means that Mick Jagger may have had little -- or maybe even anything -- to do with the decision to sue over the insurance proceeds. He certainly wasn't the one who made the details public.
Yet Mick Jagger got the blame. Was he rightly portrayed as a callous Street Fighting Man? Or is pointing out that Sir Mick wasn't (at least entirely) to blame akin to expressing Sympathy for the Devil? Rolling Stones fans can debate this all they want; these details will like stay private because the lawsuit settlement was confidential.
Where's the lesson in all of this ... other than the obvious one of being careful not to go too far using song titles in an article? Privacy matters! There is little doubt that a desire to protect privacy directly impacted the decision to settle this lawsuit.
Lesson: Proper Estate Planning Can Help With Privacy
It's not just famous people who have to worry about this concern when court battles break out after the death of a loved one. Insurance coverage fights are not uncommon -- although they are usually between potential beneficiaries, not usually whether the policy should be paid at all. For example, Whitney Houston had been involved in a court fight like this, against her step-mother, which resolved in Whitney's favor not long before she died.
Similarly, many families get embroiled in ugly estate fights after a loved one dies, often caused by poor or incomplete estate planning. For anyone who has been through one of these battles, the concept of keeping the family's messy fight private and out of the public court room is not a theoretical concept. Privacy matters, even to non-celebrities.
And the best way to preserve privacy after someone dies is with good estate planning, including a revocable living trust. In the insurance context, this means the trust should be the named beneficiary of the life insurance (at least in most instances). Making this important change is a key part of the estate planning process, yet many people forget about it. When it's not done, it often leads to a public, inconvenient, expensive, and sometimes nasty trip to probate court.
So even though you won't likely have to worry about a 12.6 million dollar insurance claim, your loved ones may very well find themselves in a fight as ugly and public as this Mick Jagger's ... if you don't work with your legal and financial professionals to complete your estate planning the right way. Why take the chance of relying on incomplete, faulty, or even nonexistent estate planning? Your heirs would dislike the fight as much as Sir Mick did.
Taking the chance that poor estate planning won't cause a public family fight is like Tumbling Dice.
Danielle and Andy Mayoras are co-authors of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! and attorneys with the Michigan law firm, Barron, Rosenberg, Mayoras & Mayoras, P.C. Click here to subscribe to their e-newsletter, The Trial & Heirs Update and learn more about their book. You can reach them at Contact@TrialAndHeirs.com.