3 Celebrity Probate Disasters and Tragic Lessons

Posted by Leslie M. Stovall, Esq. | Aug 26, 2020 | 0 Comments

With extreme wealth accumulated, one would assume that celebrities would take steps to protect their estates. But think again: Some of the world's richest and most famous people enter the pearly gates with no estate plan in place, while others have made estate planning mistakes that tied their fortunes and heirs up for years in court. Let's take a look at three high-profile celebrity probate disasters and discover what lessons we can learn from them.

  1. Tom Carvel, The Ice Cream Man

As the man who invented soft-serve ice cream and established the first franchise business in America, Tom Carvel had a net worth of up to $200 million when he died in 1990.

  • He did have a will and accompanying trust that provided for his widow, family members and donations for several charities, but he also named seven executors, all of whom had a financial stake in the game.
  • The executors began a round of infighting that lasted for more than 7 years and cost millions. In the end, Carvel's widow passed away before the disputes could be settled and before she inherited.


Lesson learned: “Too many cooks spoil the broth.” Your trustee and executor may have to make tough decisions. Consider naming executors and trustees who have no financial interest in your estate to reduce the risk of favoritism. Also, consider having only a single trustee and executor rather than a committee.


  1. Jimi Hendrix, The Guitarist

Passing away tragically at age 27, rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix left no will.

  • What he did leave behind was a long line of relatives, music industry bigwigs, and business associates who had an interest in what would become of his estate - including intellectual property that would continue to earn.
  • An attorney managed the estate for the first two decades after Jimi's death, after which Jimi's father Al Hendrix successfully sued for control of the estate.
  • But when Al attempted to leave the entire estate to his adopted daughter upon his passing, Jimi's brother, Leon Hendrix, sued, launching a messy probate battle that left no clear winners.


Lesson learned: When you don't leave a comprehensive estate plan, the conflict can last for generations. Even if you're not a celebrity, we can put your wishes in writing so they are carried out after your death rather than opening a door to costly conflict.


  1. Prince, The Musical Genius

The court battle waging over Prince's estate is a probate disaster.

  • When the 80's pop icon died in early 2016, he left no estate plan (reportedly due to some previous legal battles that left him with a distrust of legal professionals in general).
  • The lines are already being drawn for what will likely be a costly and lengthy court battle among Prince's heirs.
  • Sadly, there's even a battle looming about determining, for certain, who his heirs actually are.


Lesson learned: Accurate legal documentation protects your legacy. Don't let a general distrust or a bad experience propagate through the generations and leave your heirs to fight and potentially lose their inheritance.

These celebrity probate disasters serve as stark reminders that no one's wealth is exempt from the legal trouble that can occur without proper estate planning. As always, we are here to help you protect your family and legacy. Give us a call today to discuss protecting your assets and your family.

About the Author

Leslie M. Stovall, Esq.

Profile Leslie Mark Stovall, owner and founder of Stovall & Associates, has practiced law for over 23 years in Las Vegas, Nevada. Mr. Stovall established his Las Vegas office in 1987 and opened an office in Pahrump, Nevada in November 2008. His clients include individuals, corporations, partn...


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