Star Studded Goodbyes: Celebrities that Left a Mess Behind

December 31, 2019

Celebrities are notorious for accumulating wealth during their lives only to let it slip away after their deaths with improper, or no estate planning, in place. Simple blunders can trigger years of court battles or cost their heirs millions of dollars in adverse tax consequences. Here are 4 star personalities we lost in 2019 – and the blunders they left behind.

Karl Lagerfeld & Choupette

The most prolific fashion designer to bring life to the entire fashion industry. He died in Paris of pancreatic cancer at the age of 85. Lagerfeld gained reputation as the creative director of Chanel and became the most recognizable and outspoken man in fashion. Karl not only expressed to the world his unique creativity but also made very clear his profound adoration of his cat, Choupette. He would publicly boast about her luxurious lifestyle and in numerous interviews bluntly stated that when he died, he would leave his entire $200 million estate to his cat. Little did the world know that Karl was not joking. Choupette is the heir of his entire estate through a pet trust.

Many are confused because it is well known that French law does not allow for someone to leave assets to a pet, but as with many celebrities, the details have remained private. The method that Karl used to fulfill his wishes has yet to be made public. It is believed that this iconic designer took advantage of American laws since the U.S. does allow for construction of pet trusts. Many claim that he might had done some unique estate planning here in the States to ensure his cat continued living the lavish lifestyle she has always been accustomed to. As if this weren’t enough, another challenge the estate is facing is that France has a very high tax rate on funds for pets and estate taxes, and this alone can leave the cat with only 40% of what her owner intended for her to inherit.

Ric Ocasek

Ric Ocasek was the lead singer of The Cars and due to his success was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2018. On September 15, 2019, he was found dead in his NYC townhouse where he had been recovering from cosmetic surgery. According to the Chief Medical Examiner’s office, Ric had died from natural causes. Weeks before his surgery, Ocasek had signed a Last Will and Testament where he disinherited six of his children and his wife, Paulina Porizkova, whom he was in the process of divorcing. Before his death, Rick took the necessary steps to make sure Porizkova was not entitled to his estate because he had specifically stated in his Will that she “abandoned” him.

In New York law this language is very important because, like in most states, there are laws that give a spouse the right to elect to receive a share of the estate, even when they are disinherited. This right however can be lost when the spouse has said to “abandon” the decedent.

Nonetheless, this doesn’t altogether cancel any potential claims to the estate. For example, the surviving spouse can try to prove that he or she never abandoned the dead spouse which is exactly now the case with Porizkova. She is claiming she never abandoned Ocasek and she was very friendly and accustomed to taking him “Sunday morning coffee.” Due to these frequent visits was how she discovered his dead body. Ultimately, a probate judge will have to decide whether she can claim her elective share or not. It is up to the judge to decide based on the testimony and evidence presented in Court. If the judge decides in her favor, Porizkova would be entitled to approximately one-third (1/3) of all estate assets.

Jose Jose

A legendary Mexican music icon known by many as the Prince of Song. He died at the age of 71 after losing his battle to pancreatic cancer. From what we can glean from the news, it looks like Jose Jose did not have any estate planning in place at all. For example, the news conveys that some of his children were not with him when he died while others say the family didn’t know which funeral home his body had been taken to. Had there been proper estate planning and funeral arrangements in place, this confusion would not have occurred.

Jose Jose’s net worth in the U.S. at the time of his death is estimated at $5 million Dollars. As a foreigner living in Florida, he could have arranged for an international estate plan to avoid the hefty federal estate tax. At the minimum, his estate would be subject to a 40% tax rate, with only an exemption of $60,000. Another major issue is that Jose Jose had two ex-wives and one current wife, as well as three children from two of those marriages. The media has announced that the children are fighting for their inheritance because there is no reported Last Will & Testament or Trust. Without a properly executed estate plan delineating specific beneficiaries, all of the copyrights over his songs are another discord amongst family members as well as potential adverse taxation on his estate.

Jeffrey Epstein

Jeffrey was a very famous American financier who was incarcerated for sexual exploitation, abuse and human trafficking of young girls in the early 2000’s. Epstein was found dead in his prison cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center on August 10th and the death was ruled an apparent suicide. Lawyers representing the sex abuse victims announced that several lawsuits are to be filed against Epstein’s estate. The attorney representing the estate, Bennet Moskowitz, said that he was still trying to put together all of Epstein’s assets. Two days before his death Epstein placed $578 million in assets into a Trust. The plaintiff’s attorneys are not comfortable with the complications and delays in the proceedings of Epstein’s estate stating it is “time for justice to be done.”

Long after their deaths, celebrities often remain in the news because of disputes over their hefty estates. Whether it is from a complete lack of planning or the result of improper planning, the issues that arise in celebrity estate planning can affect anyone. Contact OC Estate & Elder Law at (954) 251-0332 or to get started on your estate plan with a free consultation. Our attorneys are fluent in English, Spanish, and Russian.