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Celebrity Legacies: Marlon Brando's Estate Marred by Dozens of Lawsuits

Unquestionably, Marlon Brando was one of the leading actors of the 20th century.  The well-known Godfather was always in firm control ... until it came to his estate that is.  Marlon_Brando_The_Wild_One-225x300

This is installment #12 of our Estate Planning Lessons From The Stars series, which is based on the Celebrity Legacies TV show for which we provide commentary as the estate legal experts. See other articles in the series here.

Marlon Brando never followed convention.  He won his Oscar for Best Actor in 1973 for The Godfather, but Brando rejected the award as a protest to the treatment of Native Americans by the film industry.  Too bad he failed to follow the norms when it came to estate planning.

In part due to questions about his true intentions as expressed in his will and trust, Marlon Brando’s estate was involved in more than two dozens lawsuits by 2009 — five years after his death.  He passed away on July 1, 2004, at 80 years of age, suffering from a host of ailments including dementia and lung failure.

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Oscar Winners Teach Five Lessons On Estate Planning

The 2014 Oscars are complete.  Trial & Heirs looks back at past Oscar winners like Philip Seymour Hoffman, Elizabeth Taylor, Heath Ledger, Frank Sinatra, and Marlon Brando.  Their estates illustrate important estate planning lessons that everyone can benefit from — even those who aren’t walking the red carpet at the Oscars.  

1. Philip Seymour Hoffman Estate Planning Lesson:  You Can Be Creative With Your Will or Trust

There were many mistakes and pitfalls with Philip Seymour Hoffman’s estate (including no estate tax planning and his failure to use a revocable living trust, as we discuss in our article).  But, Hoffman — whose portrayal of Capote earned him the Best Actor Oscar in 2006 — didn’t do everything wrong. Oscars_hoffman-237x300

He gets credit for a key component of estate planning that many people overlook: creativity.  Estate planning is not meant to be “fill in the blank” or “one-size fits all.”  You can use your will or trust to pass along your goals, values and moral beliefs.  Most people think wills and trusts only pass along assets to the next generation, but they can do so much more.

Hoffman’s will highlights this.  He included language in his will to express his strong desire that his son be raised in Manhattan, Chicago, or San Francisco, or at least visit one of those cities twice each year, to be exposed to the culture, arts and architecture that those cities offer.   Hoffman could have taken it a step further, especially through a well-drafted trust, but we applaud the late actor for thinking outside the box.

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National Television Show Will Help Protect Family Fortunes

After months and months of preparation, this weekend we taped our television show, Trial & Heirs: Protect Your Family Fortune!  Our show will premiere in Michigan on August 9th at 8 p.m. EST and air on PBS affiliates around the country in November and December.  PBS will also stream the broadcast online for the premiere, through, so that everyone would have an opportunity to view the show in August.   Danielle-Andy-film-their-national-TV-special-300x225

The taping included our show with a live studio audience (they were wonderful!), DVD extras from the two of us, and an interview with Ray Charles, Jr.

Ray shared some touching stories about his famous father as well as the private pain that his father’s estate has caused his family.  Ray’s full interview, including some never-before-told stories, will be available as one of the DVD extras.

We share some behind-the-scenes pictures from our production on our Trial & Heirs Facebook page.  If you’re not already a member of our Facebook page, make sure to “like” it so that you receive the latest from us!

Andy and Danielle with Ray Charles, Jr. Our television special is based on our book, Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! In the show, we use high-profile celebrity stories, like Sonny Bono, Marlon Brando, Princess Diana, Michael Jackson and James Brown, to educate people about wills, trusts and estate planning. The TV special will also help raise money to support the wonderful cause of public television, which needs pledge donations now more than ever with federal funding cuts.

With different pledge amounts, viewers can receive the DVD of the show with DVD extras from us as well as our full interview with Ray; a copy of our book, Trial & Heirs; and our brand new Estate Planning Organizer to help you, your family, and your clients.

We hope that all of you join us for the exciting premiere of Trial & Heirs:  Protect Your Family Fortune! on WTVS Channel 56 and, August 9th at 8pm EST!

By Danielle and Andy Mayoras, co-authors of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights!, husband-and-wife legacy expert attorneys, and hosts of the national TV special, Trial & Heirs:  Protect Your Family Fortune! The charismatic duo has appeared on the Rachael Ray Show, Forbes, ABC’s Live Well Network, and FOX and NBC affiliates.  They’ve lent their expertise and analysis to hundreds of media sources, including The Associated Press, Los Angeles Times, The Huffington Post, Kiplinger, and The Washington Post, among many others.  Danielle and Andy delight audiences nationwide with highly entertaining and informative presentations, dishing the dirt on celebrity estate battles while dispensing important legal information to help people avoid family fights among their heirs.

For the latest celebrity and high-profile cases, with tips to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your clients, subscribe to The Trial and Heirs Update at

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New Book To Help Avoid Celebrity Estate Planning Blunders

“Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights!” Explores High-Profile Cases & Offers Expert Advice



The highly publicized estate battles of several deceased celebrities have cast a bright spotlight on the importance of having the proper estate planning. Although mega-rich celebrities seem to be affected overwhelmingly by these brutal family squabbles, the new book


"Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights!" is designed to help every family, regardless of income level, avoid the financial pitfalls that drained bank accounts and created huge family rifts for the dozens of superstars profiled in the book. 

“Trial & Heirs” uses real stories to help readers steer clear of the same celebrity “estate errors” as they plan for their own “heirs.” The stories cover well known legal fights over famous fortunes: including the recent battles over Michael Jackson’s estate, along with other celebrities like Ted Kennedy; Anna Nicole Smith; Brooke Astor; Heath Ledger, Ray Charles; Princess Di; Jimi Hendrix; Frank Sinatra; Martin Luther King Jr.; and Rosa Parks… as well as many others that most people aren’t even aware of.  The book gives readers a front row seat in the courtroom while the authors replay the “tabloid drama”, point out what went wrong in these riveting cases, and teach readers how to avoid similar errors.

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Marlon Brando Estate wins victory on appeal

I previously covered the will contest filed against the Marlon Brando Estate by the ex-wife of Marlon's deceased son, Christopher.  At the time, it appeared that the attorneys for Deborah Brando -- on their third try -- filed a sufficient legal challenge so that the probate judge would allow the case to proceed.  The judge threw out their first two tries.Marlon Brando as GF

Deborah claimed that the Codicil (or will amendment) dated less than two weeks before Brando's death was actually forged, and that the co-executors of the Estate committed fraud to hide the forgery.

But the co-executors filed a motion asking the judge -- again -- to dismiss the challenge.  This time, the judge agreed with them.  He ruled that the claim was filed too late.  The will and codicil were accepted into probate back in August, 2004.  Deborah's lawyers had filed her claim (the first time) more than three years later.

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Celebrity Money Battles article

The chief editor of and I collaborated on an article discussing some of the latest celebrity estate and probate-related feuds.  The article includes:Britney Spears 2

The battles in the Britney Spears Conservatorship case, highlighted by the attorney who compared Britney's situation to a Soviet forced labor camp, before a restraining order was entered against him for three years.

Whitney Houston 2The Whitney Houston life insurance court case, through which Whitney lashed back at her step-mother (who sued Whitney) by detailing how the "custodial care services worker" met Whitney's father cleaning his house and then moved in with him despite their 40-year age difference and the fact Whitney's father was married at the time.

The Marlon Brando Estate, which has been involved in 26 different lawsuitsCeleb-marlon-brando_275-x-2481, including claims of sexual harassment, fraud, forgery, undue influence and abuse -- not to mention bringing to light Brando's paranoia that was so severe at the end of his life, he wanted his bedroom padlocked when he died so no one would steal the buttons off his shirt.

Anna Nicole SmithAnd the Grandaddy of all estate battles  -- Anna Nicole Smith -- who fought the son of her late 90-year old husband over his fortune worth hundreds of millions, up to the United States Supreme Court, only to have her own estate embroiled in litigation when she died.

You can read the complete Celebrity Money Battles article here.

Newsplink is a cool new website featuring unique news stories submitted by amateur and professional journalists alike. 

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 @

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Probate attorneys working overtime on Marlon Brando Estate

In a previous post about the legal wranglings surrounding the Marlon Brando Estate, I discussed a couple of the highlights, including claims of a forged will, sexual harassment, broken promises and more.  Those were the tip of the iceberg.Brando

A recent New York Times article discusses that, dating back to the time shortly before the legendary actor died at age 80, on July 1, 2004, his trust and estate have been involved in 26 different lawsuits.  The latest is a challenge initiated by his three trustees against the Broadcast Center Apartments in Hollywood for featuring a "'Brando suite". 

The trustees worry about the commercial value of Brando's name and image.  They are forming Brando Enterprises, with the goal of "protecting and managing the Brando brand."  Among the projects planned -- a condo complex in the South Pacific (ecologically friendly of course), with a price tag of between $50 and $100 million. 

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