Probate Cannot Be Avoided by the Elite


If there are no proper estate planning documents created, opening a probate case is unavoidable for anyone regardless of celebrity status or wealth. Everyone at some point in their lives will experience the loss of a loved one. If anyone fails to create the proper estate planning documents, their loved ones will have to open a probate case to handle their remaining belongings or assets. Having a Will created does not always avoid opening a probate case, however, it immensely helps the probate process run smoother than having to file a probate case as intestate (meaning the decedent had no Will). It is always best to create the proper estate planning documents if individuals would prefer that their information be kept private and not become public record which happens when a probate case is opened. Listed below are six of the most popular documented probate cases that have been opened after a celebrity’s passing – in which some of the cases are still open years after their passing. 

1. Bob Marley 

Probate Cannot Be Avoided by the Elite

The Jamaican singer and songwriter, Bob Marley, who’s full legal name is Robert Nesta Marley, passed away on May 11, 1981 without any known Will. His family opened a gruesomely long probate case in the country of Jamaica that continued on for over 30 years. The court-appointed administrator (personal representative) for Bob Marley’s estate was an attorney. Many claims and lawsuits were filed against Bob Marley’s estate from his family, friends, and associates throughout the countries of Jamaica, United Kingdom, and the United States. The estimated value for Bob Marley’s estate was estimated to be around $30 million dollars, however, his estate value continued to grow even more since his passing. Bob Marley’s wife, Rita Marley, fought to obtain her right to his remaining estate which was eventually granted by the court in Jamaica. His remaining estate was decided to be divided between his wife, Rita, and 11 of his legally recognized children. 

2. Amy Winehouse 

. Amy Winehouse 

Another famous singer and songwriter from England is Amy Winehouse who passed away on July 23, 2011. Amy Winehouse is another well-known celebrity whose family had to file a probate case after her passing due to no found Will or estate planning documents. Amy’s father, Mitch Winehouse, served as executor or personal representative for her remaining estate and it was concluded that her remaining estate was worth roughly $4.66 million dollars. Amy’s ex-husband, Blake Fielder-Civil, filed a claim in her probate case that was ultimately denied by the judge. The couple divorced prior to her passing, therefore, was not entitled to receive a part of her estate. Amy Winehouse’s parents, Mitch and Janis Winehouse, received Amy’s remaining assets according to the probate court, although, some who knew Amy personally mentioned that this would not have been her true wishes due to a strained relationship she had with her father. 

3. Michael Jackson 

Michael Jackson

The King of Pop, singer, songwriter, and famous moonwalker, Michael Jackson, is also a known celebrity whose family had to open a probate case after his passing on June 25, 2009. A Will was revealed and submitted from Michael Jackson’s attorney designating his attorney John Branca and music executive John McClain as the executors of the Will he had created seven years before his passing. Before the Will was submitted into the probate case, Michael Jackson’s mother, Katherine Jackson, petitioned to be designated as the personal representative for his estate. She withdrew her petition, and contested that the executors, John Branca and John McClain, obtained conflict of interests to follow through as executors of Jackson’s estate. The judge ruled that John Branca and John McClain would serve as executors for Michael’s Will that was discovered. A trust fund was created by Michael Jackson to care for his family and friends before his passing; however, the trust fund was never funded. Therefore, a long public probate case was opened in order to determine the distributions for Michael’s remaining estate that was estimated to be worth roughly $236 million dollars. Michael Jackson’s estate continues to grow with an estimated growth of $2.1 billion dollars since his passing. 

4. Prince 


The popular singer, Prince, who’s full legal name is Prince Rogers Nelson passed away on April 21, 2016. After his passing, it was discovered that he passed away without any known Will or other estate planning documents. A probate case was opened in the state of Minnesota, where Prince’s estate was located. The probate case opened is still ongoing, and there have been multiple claims to Prince’s estate from individuals such as former unknown wives, siblings, and other relatives. Prince’s probate case was filed as intestate, meaning the decedent passed away without a Will. The estimated calculated value for Prince’s remaining estate was around $200 million dollars. The judge overseeing the probate case in the state of Minnesota ruled that Prince’s sister, Tyka Nelson, and his five other half-siblings are the rightful heirs to his estate, however, multiple claims and appeals have been made contesting the ruling. 

5. Aretha Franklin 

Aretha Franklin

The woman often referred to as the “Queen of Soul”, Aretha Franklin, passed away on August 16, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. Aretha left no Will or other estate planning documents, therefore, her family proceeded with filing a probate case after her passing. Initially, Aretha’s four sons decided to appoint their cousin, Sabrina Owens, to be the executor of the estate. However, two handwritten documents were later discovered in Aretha Franklin’s home that explained how she wanted her estate to be divided and who she wanted appointed to be the executors of her estate – which was Sabrina Owens and Aretha’s son, Ted White Jr. In the state of Michigan, the handwritten documents may be entered into the probate case since Michigan law does not require notarization or witnesses in making a valid Will as long as it could be proven that the decedent wrote the Will and was not forced or threatened to write the document. The case battle continued with the court deciding which document or Will found would be valid or entered into Aretha’s probate case. Sabrina Owens decided to step down from the role of the executor and personal representative of Aretha’s estate and the judge decided to appoint a Detroit attorney, Reginald Turner, as the temporary personal representative of the estate until the determination for which Will would be deemed as valid takes place in order to continue Aretha’s probate case for her remaining estate. The probate case is still currently ongoing and there have been many family disputes in the quest to determine who would inherit Aretha Franklin’s estate that is estimated to be worth roughly $17 million dollars. 

6. Chadwick Boseman 

Chadwick Boseman 

The most recent passing of actor, Chadwick Boseman, on August 28, 2020, shocked the world. Chadwick Boseman had been battling colon cancer for four years before his passing, and throughout his battle with cancer he had continued working to play a prominent role in the movie Black Panther. It was discovered after his passing that Chadwick had no Will or other estate planning documents in place. His wife, Taylor Simone Ledward, recently filed a probate case in Los Angeles, California on October 15, 2020 to be appointed as the executor for his remaining estate that is worth to be roughly around $1 million dollars. The married couple had no children together, and Chadwick’s parents, Leroy and Carolyn Boseman, are also listed on the initial probate documents as the remaining heirs for his estate. Although the probate case for Chadwick Boseman is still ongoing and it is too early for conclusions to be made, his surviving spouse, Taylor Ledward, may inherit all of his estate. 


The list of celebrities and famous individuals who passed away without any Will or estate planning documents could go on. One of the most important factors for creating estate planning documents is to avoid family feuds and disputes after the passing of a loved one which could prolong the grieving process. Famous probate cases that have been opened after the passing of a celebrity are perfect examples for what could happen throughout any probate case if there is no Will or other estate planning documents in place that help guide your family with how to handle your remaining assets or belongings. Your estate does not need to be worth over $1 million dollars to have proper estate planning documents in place – any property, bank accounts, life insurance policies, or other remaining assets will more than likely have to go through the probate court. Having a valid Will created tremendously helps your family proceed through the process at ease, and the best way to avoid having your family to open a probate case is to have a trust document created. Anyone over the age of 18 should reach out to an estate planning attorney in their state to discuss creating the best estate plan for themselves and their families. 

Contact us today at (305) 456-3255 if you would like to schedule an estate planning consultation to discuss and create the best estate plan that is recognized as valid throughout the courts of Florida. Stivers Law helps provide the ease for families in creating estate plans that thoroughly follows everything according to the wishes of our clients. 

As a reminder, the information provided on this blog article is only to be used for general informational purposes and not intended to be used as legal advice.  

Author Bio

Justin Stivers is the founder and managing attorney of Stivers Law, an estate planning firm specializing in wills, probate, trust administration, and financial risk management services. Justin’s approach goes beyond just creating legal documents. From aligning investments with estate plans to ensuring comprehensive insurance coverage, he safeguards a client’s legacy from unforeseen circumstances. His commitment extends beyond individual transactions, fostering lifelong partnerships to provide ongoing support and guidance.

With an impressive track record, Justin is licensed by the Florida and the Tennessee State Bars. His professional portfolio boasts Series 65 registration as a Registered Investment Advisor, the Wealth Management Specialist™ designation, and a 2-15 License for Health, Life, and Annuities. His dedication to excellence has earned him positions like Board Member of the Estate Planning Council of Greater Miami, Business Eagle Member of the Florida Justice Association, and active membership in esteemed organizations like the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.

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