There is a very strange phenomenon that has shown itself time and time again over the years. An uncanny number of young musicians have passed away before their time when they were 27 years of age. This is called the “27 Club,” and sadly, Jim Morrison of The Doors is a member.
He passed away on July 3, 1971, and the 50th anniversary of his death has just passed. From an estate planning perspective, he made a mistake that you can learn from, and we will look at it in this post.
Jim Morrison’s Will
Even though he was still in his 20s, Morrison had a will when he passed away, and he may have sensed that he would not be living a normal lifespan. To be blunt, he hated his parents, and they would have inherited his estate if he did not have a will that disinherited them.
The sole beneficiary in his will was his girlfriend, Pamela Courson, and his siblings were the alternate beneficiaries. Under the terms of the will, his brother and sister would be the inheritors If Courson died within 90 days of Morrison’s death.
She did in fact live for more than 90 days, so she became the heir to the estate, but she died in 1974. Courson did not have a will, so she died intestate. Under the intestate succession laws, her parents were going to inherit the estate, which contained the Morrison legacy.
Jim Morrison’s parents filed a lawsuit to contest the transfer of the assets to the Courson family, and the parties managed to reach an out-of-court settlement.
We know that Morrison wanted his siblings to inherit his estate if Pamela Courson was not around, and he despised his parents, so this outcome was not consistent with his wishes.
What Could He Have Done?
He could have prevented this outcome if he would have worked with an estate planning attorney to create a trust. A professional fiduciary could have been named, and the assets could be managed by a qualified financial manager.
With regard to the succession issue, he could have named his siblings as alternate beneficiaries that would become the primary beneficiaries after Courson’s death.
There is another very relevant factor that he should have considered when he had estate planning on his mind. We have a federal estate tax in the United States, and it can have a very significant impact on wealthy people.
These days, it is only a factor for high-net-worth individuals because there is a credit or exclusion that can be used to transfer a certain amount before the tax would be applicable on the remainder. In 2021, the federal estate tax exclusion is $11.7 million, and the maximum rate is 40 percent.
When Jim Morrison died in 1971, the federal estate tax exclusion was just $60,000. Granted, it is all relative, but $60,000 was not a lot of money for someone that was one of the most popular rock artists in the world. To add insult to injury, the top rate was 77 percent.
Why do we know how Morrison planned his estate? After all, the way that you decide to transfer your legacy is your business, and the whole world should not be able to find out about it.
Ethically, this is true, but a will must be admitted to probate. This is a public proceeding that takes place under the supervision of a court, so the records are available to anyone that wants to access them.
If you use a living trust instead of a simple will as your asset transfer vehicle, you would act as the trustee while you are living, so you would maintain control of the assets. After your death, the successor trustee that you name would administer the trust.
You would leave instructions for the trustee with regard to the way you want the assets to be distributed. When the time comes, your wishes would be honored, and the probate court would not be involved.
Schedule a Consultation Today!
As you can see from the Jim Morrison estate situation, it is important to look beyond a simple will and consider all the potential outcomes. When you work with us, we can gain an understanding of your objectives and help you devise a plan that covers all your bases.
If you are ready to get started, you can set up an appointment at our Troy, Michigan estate planning office if you call us at 248-251-1001. There is also a contact form on this site you can use to send us a message, and if you reach out in this manner, you will receive a prompt response.