Jimi Hendrix was only twenty-seven when he died in 1970. He left no will, no trust—no instruction at all—to direct his estate to the right person. Many people who knew Jimi believe he would have left everything to his half-brother, Leon, the only person he considered family. Instead, Jimi’s entire estate went to his absentee father, Al Hendrix. Because he was so young when he died, Jimi’s estate was not yet worth all that much. But the rights to Jimi’s music and his likeness proved to be extremely valuable.
All states have rules for handling the probates of the estates of people who leave no written instructions, but in many cases those rules don’t match the wishes of the deceased. That certainly appeared to be the case in the Hendrix family. Jimi had bounced from foster home to foster home for most of his childhood. But when he died, his estate went to his next of kin as defined by state law.
Jimi’s lack of planning resulted in several extended lawsuits. After Al won, he managed the estate for about twenty years. When he died, Al’s will left his son’s estate (then worth $80 million) to Al’s adopted daughter, Janie, who Jimi barely knew.
It’s easy to get caught up in stories like these and think, “That sort of thing only happens to celebrities. Those warnings don’t apply to me.” If that’s what you’re thinking, you’re wrong. Even middle-class Arkansans, folks who may feel like they don’t have much, can wind up in a mess when they don’t plan.
You must put your plan in writing to make sure your estate goes where you want it to go, in the way you want it to get there, without going through probate court. You don’t want to leave it to state law. If you’re in a second marriage, if you have young children, if you have no children, if you care for a disabled relative, or if you want to disinherit an heir, I can almost guarantee that state law won’t match your wishes. But problems are common even in cases that you wouldn’t consider “special circumstances.”
My book, You Need A Plan, tells the stories of many celebrities who failed to plan or who had plans that failed. But it also tells heartbreaking stories of middle-class families who may never heal from the rifts caused by poor planning. If you still need to be convinced that you need a plan, order a copy at YourPlanMatters.com. Even better, stop putting it off and call for a no-charge strategy session to make sure your family does not become one of these stories.