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The Author who Played with Fire

Swedish author Stieg Larsson never lived to see his creations gain worldwide success.  He died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 50 in 2004, before his first novel, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, was published.  His three novels -- which comprise the Millennium trilogy -- have sold 50 million copies worldwide.  The Swedish movies based on the books have also been very popular, including the second installment, The Girl Who Played With Fire, which was released in the U.S. in 2010.  Stieg Larsson

In fact, U.S.A. Today recently named Larsson as its 2010 Author of the Year. 

Larsson was never married and had no children.  He also didn't have a will.  So his brother and father have been the ones to manage -- and of course profit from -- his now very-wealthy estate.

But, there is some drama to this story.  While not married, Larsson did leave behind a sambo.  What's a sambo?  It's a Swedish term for a live-in partner, like a common-law wife.  Larsson's sambo, Eva Gabrielsson, was his live-in girlfriend for 32 years.  They shared an apartment together, and many other things, including a laptop.

What's so special about a laptop?  Larsson didn't write three novels.  He actually wrote four (at least).  And this fourth, unpublished novel is ... you guessed it ... on the laptop.

Larsson's estate wants it.  But Gabrielsson won't turn it over.  She's reportedly been offered 20 million kronor (worth about $2.6 million), but she says it's not about the money.  She doesn't like how Larsson's brother and father are managing his literary legacy and she wants to be in control.  Without being granted full rights to control how his works are published, managed and sold, Gabrielsson says she won't release the fourth novel to be published.  Not ever.

On the other hand, she did announce recently that she has her own book coming out, to be released in the Summer of 2011.  Gabrielsson promises that the book will shed some light on the fourth novel and give fans "some answers to their many questions."

In the meantime, Larsson's long-time love interest (who inherits nothing under Swedish law) and his family members continue to feud.  And they've done so publicly, with verbal attacks lobbed back and forth through the media.  Larsson wasn't close to his family, the girlfriend says.  The father and brother fired back, saying Larsson didn't want the girlfriend to inherit anything, and besides, she's "very peculiar". 

It's ugly, and it's been dragging on for years, with no resolution in sight.  Yes, it's all because Larsson never had even a simple will.

Think this couldn't happen in America?  Think again.  Most states do not recognize inheritance rights for common-law spouses when there is no will.  In other words, this same result would happen here as well.

Stieg Larsson is yet another in the long list of celebrities who procrastinated with their estate planning, leaving their families to pay the price.  Martin Luther King, Jr., Jimi Hendrix, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Sonny Bono, and Pablo Picasso are a just a few notable names from that list. 

Don't let your family suffer from estate planning procrastination!  Sharing celebrity horror stories are a great way to encourage loved ones to do the proper legal planning.

Want a good tool to help inform your stubborn loved ones and get that difficult conversation about estate planning started?  Here's a book that can help.

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+.