Abraham Lincoln, one of the leading lawyers of his day died without a will. Ulysses S. Grant, Andrew Johnston, Lenny Bruce, Sal Mineo, Pablo Picasso, George Gershwin, Duke Ellington, Jayne Mansfield and even jazz great Duke Ellington all died will-less.
Howard Hughes also died intestate (without a valid will). The legal wrangling surrounded Howard Hughes estate was without equal. Over thirty versions of Hughes purported last will and testament were submitted to the Nevada, California, and Texas probate courts. At the end of the day, after lengthy trials and hearings not one of the many wills submitted to the court was admitted to probate.
Hughes enormous estate passed by intestacy to various relatives who had virtually no contact with Hughes during his life. By his failure to make a will his estate passed to what is sometime referred to as his "laughing heirs" and of course, his favourite party, the Government, took a substantial share. His failure to implement a proper valid plan actually cost his estate hundreds of millions of dollars in unnecessary taxes.
Many famous lawyers and judges have had their wills invalidated or ruinously construed or litigated. The will of a U.S. Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase was also brief but sadly, defective, attempting to transfer land in the District of Columbus but having two witnesses instead of the required three for that District.
Distressingly, some people postponed will making just a moment too long. Illustrative of this danger is the fate of a Treasury Department clerk in Washington whose death bed scribble was illegible. Sometimes a jolly testator (individual) makes his own will – at time completely in his own hand which is called a holograph will.
In speaking of a home-made will Justice Harman declared of one such jolly testator, "He signed the will and no doubt thought he had done a good days work, as, for the legal profession he had".
A will must last the testator all his death. By the laws of this Country, every testator, in disposing of his property on death, is at liberty to adopt his or her own sensibilities. Judges become the only authorized interpreters of his or her sensibilities.
One cannot catalogue all the ways in which an alert lawyer may help the testator or estate given the opportunity.
I hope it is clear, even if we give the rich or famous parties mentioned the benefit of the doubt that they may have had wills that were too well hidden or they were just too busy in their lives to concern themselves with their estate plan.
An unplanned death is unnecessary and costly to those you love the most or those you wish to benefit.
Be sure that your wills (and powers of attorney) are up-to-date, valid and can be easily located by your heirs. I urge you to act promptly if you have not as yet had these essential documents prepared and in the words of Professor of Law Elmer M. Million: "... be warned of the dangers of do-it-yourself methods in two fields: 1. Your Wills; and 2. Brain Surgery".