Jim Morrison considered himself to be a poet, and he emerged as a cultural icon when he fronted The Doors during the heyday of the classic rock era. Sadly, he passed away of a drug overdose when he was just 27 years old.
The date of his passing was June 3, 1971, so people are recognizing the 50th anniversary of his passing this year. From estate planning perspective, Morrison’s family saga is instructive, and we will take a look at it here.
Morrison’s Will and Intestate Succession
Even though he was a rather free-spirited man in his 20s, Morrison was smart enough to state his final wishes in a valid will. He left everything to his girlfriend, Pamela Courson, with one stipulation.
If she did not live for at least 90 days after his passing, the estate would go to his siblings. Parents would actually be the relatives that would be first in line to inherit an intestate estate. He did not want his parents to get anything because he disliked them intensely.
She survived the 90 days, but she died two years after Morrison’s death, and she didn’t have a will. Once again, parents are the inheritors when an unmarried person with no children passes away intestate, so Courson’s parents were entitled to her estate.
Morrison’s mother and father adopted a different perspective, and they filed a lawsuit to make a claim to the intestate estate. They contended that it was comprised of assets that belonged to their son, so this family should certainly be entitled to the estate.
The case never wound up in court, because the two families were able to negotiate an agreement to divide the royalty rights and the existing property in an equitable manner.
The Potential Solution
Morrison could have prevented this outcome if he would have worked with an estate planning attorney to develop the ideal plan given his position. It would revolve around the utilization of a trust instead of a will.
Courson was not a savvy money manager, and there is no reason to believe she was qualified to run a business that was generating large amounts of ongoing income. Morrison could have named a professional fiduciary to act as the trustee of the trust.
The assets would be managed by someone with the appropriate expertise, and they could be given the discretion to provide for Courson in a measured fashion. In this manner, she would not have the ability to make very poor decisions that could yield negative consequences.
Since he wanted his siblings to receive his estate in the absence Courson, he could have named them as successor beneficiaries. If this step had been taken, they would have inherited the assets after Pamela Courson’s death.
There is also the matter of the federal estate tax. When Morrison died in 1971, the exclusion was just $60,000. This is the amount that can be transferred before the rest would be taxable. Believe it or not, the top rate back then was 77 percent.
The estate will be taxed according to the code if it is transferred pursuant to the terms of a will, but certain trusts can be used to facilitate transfers at a tax discount.
Another consideration is the loss of privacy. When a will is used to transfer assets, it is admitted to probate, and the court provides supervision during the administration process.
This is a public proceeding, so anyone that is interested can access the records to find out how the assets were distributed. This is why you know all these details about Morrison estate.
When a trust is used, the distributions are not subject to probate, so privacy remains intact.
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