By Lane V. Erickson, Idaho Estate Planning Attorney

Life can sometimes offer some interesting lessons for us to learn. When it comes to wealth and owning assets, many of us look to celebrities and live our lives vicariously through their wealth, their fame, or the power they have. Sometimes we even think that these individuals have everything figured out and that they don’t make any mistakes in their lives.

Having been an estate planning attorney now for 20 years I can tell you that even the rich and famous sometimes make incredible mistakes when it comes to their estate planning. They make these mistakes for the same reasons that many of us do. We simply aren’t knowledgeable or experienced enough to understand what needs to be done. It’s for this reason that we always recommend that if you are considering getting your estate planning done or if you have had a family member or loved one pass away recently and you are looking at the probate process, you should hire a qualified and experienced Idaho estate planning and probate attorney to assist you and your family. By doing this you can avoid some of the basic mistakes that even celebrities make.

To help you understand what I’m talking about, below I’ve listed three celebrities who made mistakes with their own estate planning. I offer these examples to you to help you avoid these same mistakes.

Princess Diana –

Our first example is Princess Diana. In 1997 she died at the age of 36 in a tragic car accident. At the time of her death her estimated wealth was in the sum of around $55 million dollars. She left most of her estate to her two children Harry and William. She did this through a well-crafted and prepared last will and testament and other estate planning documents. However, in addition to these documents she also left a handwritten note requesting that all of her personal property be distributed to her godchildren based on her directions in that written note.

In handling her estate, the court determined that the handwritten note was invalid. As a result, the laws of intestacy based on the statutes of the United Kingdom applied and all of Princess Diana’s personal property was distributed through the directions provided by those statutes. In other words, the personal property listed in her handwritten note did not get distributed the way that Princess Diana had requested.

The lesson to be learned from this example is how important it is to make sure that you have reviewed everything you have done with your estate planning attorneys. If Princess Diana had shown her handwritten note to her attorneys, they would have advised her to revise her formally prepared estate planning documents and provide the same instructions in those documents rather than in the handwritten note. In this way, Princess Diana’s intentions and her directions would have been followed.

Melissa Mathison –

The next example of a celebrity making a mistake with their estate planning involves Melissa Mathison. Her name will likely not mean anything to you until you know that she is the person who wrote the screenplay for the famous movie E.T. She was also the former wife of Harrison Ford. She died of cancer in 2015. After her passing, the petition for probate of her estate evidenced that she was worth about $22 million dollars at the time of her death.

It is known that Melissa completed her estate planning. However, the problem that existed for her and her family is that after her death her original last will and testament could not be located. A copy of the will was found and it provided specific instructions on exactly what she wanted to have done with her estate. In California, like most states, a copy of the will works just fine so long as there is no one contesting the will. Otherwise, the original will has to be presented to the court in order for the probate to proceed pursuant to the instructions set forth in the will.

In this instance, it appears that Melissa did not understand the importance that her original will would play after her death. Had she known she likely would have followed the advice of most attorneys which is to leave the original will with the attorney so that it can be provided to the family upon the client’s death. Following this guideline has saved many families from will contests and costly litigation over estate assets.

Sonny Bono –

The final example that we will review is that of Sonny Bono. He was obviously famous for being part of the singing duo Sonny and Cher. He died unexpectedly in 1998 due to a skiing accident and left behind an estate with an estimated value of over a million dollars However, the problem is he had no written last will and testament.

Because there was no written will this led to years of litigation about how the estate would be distributed between potential heirs including an alleged illegitimate child. It also caused a great burden to Sonny’s surviving spouse who had to fight these Court battles in order to be appointed as the executor of his estate. All of this could easily have been avoided had a written last will and testament been created.

So, as you can see, even the rich and famous sometimes make mistakes that can cause problems for their loved ones and family members after they have passed away. Our goal is to assist our clients and avoiding these mistakes. We have helped numerous clients create well thought-out estate plans and we are confident that we can help you too.


Our team of Idaho lawyers can help you with any of your estate planning or probate needs. Whether you are seeking to create or review an estate plan for yourself or would like to help a loved one, we are available to discuss your options and answer your questions at an initial free 30-minute consultation. Call us toll free at 877-232-6101 or 208-232-6101 for a consultation. You can also email Lane V. Erickson directly at or stop by our office at 201 East Center Street, Pocatello, Idaho 83201. We will answer your questions and help you solve your Idaho Estate Planning problems.

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