A handful of classic rock artists have captured the public’s imagination before they passed away at young ages. Jim Morrison is one of them. As the lead singer of The Doors, he was the voice of many memorable hits that people are still enjoying to this day.
The 50th anniversary of his passing was recognized on July 3, 2021, with a great deal of attention.
From an estate planning perspective, Morrison did one thing right, but he made some major mistakes. You can learn from them as we share the details in this post.
Consequences of a Simple Will
The worst mistake you can make is to have no estate plan at all, and even though he was just 27 when he died, he had a last will in place that left everything to his girlfriend, Pamela Courson, who was later recognized as his common-law wife.
Courson had a drug problem and Morrison thought she might follow soon after his passing, so he included a stipulation in his will that Courson would only inherit his assets if she lived at least 90 days after his death. If she didn’t, everything would pass to his siblings.
Pamela Courson survived beyond the 90-day period, the court determined she was his common-law wife, and she eventually inherited the estate. However, she died in 1974 when she too was only 27 years of age and without a will.
Many people might find this disturbing, but Morrison despised his parents and he had no affection for Courson’s parents. When he drew up his will, he stated he wanted his brother and sister to inherit his assets if Pamela Courson didn’t.
Despite this, the courts were bound by the intestate succession laws which made Courson’s parents the rightful inheritors of her estate. Jim Morrison’s parents did not accept this and filed a lawsuit challenging the intestate succession statutes.
The court never made a final determination because the parties mutually agreed to share the royalty rights and existing property. In the end, because he didn’t properly plan ahead, Morrison’s true wishes were not followed, and the tragedy is that this outcome could have been avoided.
Morrison should have worked with an estate planning attorney to develop a comprehensive trust-based plan that covered all his bases. Courson was not a savvy financial manager and had personal problems, so there is no reason to believe she could have managed the estate effectively.
A professional fiduciary could have been named as the trustee. Asset protection safeguards could have been included in the trust declaration. And since it was clear that Morrison thought Courson might pass away while still young, he could have made his siblings the successor beneficiaries.
If he had taken these steps, his siblings would have become the beneficiaries after Courson’s death and his and Courson’s parents would not have wound up with his entire estate.
Estate Tax Efficiency
There is also the matter of federal estate tax. You are able to take advantage of the estate tax exclusion to transfer amounts tax-free, so only the rest of your estate is potentially subject to taxation.
In 2021, the exclusion is a robust $11.7 million and the top tax rate is 40 percent. In Morrison’s day, the exclusion was just $600,000, and the maximum rate was an eye-popping 77 percent. As a result, much of his estate could have found itself subject to estate taxation.
An estate tax efficiency plan could have been implemented to mitigate the damage, but Morrison did not take any steps to avoid the impact of the estate tax.
Loss of Privacy
The reason this information about Morrison’s estate is readily available is because any estate that passes by will is subject to probate to transfer the assets. This is a public proceeding and the records are available to anyone interested.
If you use a living trust instead of a will to transfer assets at your death, you can be the trustee or manager of your estate while you are living, you maintain control, and after your death, a successor trustee who you named will privately distribute the assets to your beneficiaries.
These distributions are not subject to probate, so a court will not be involved, and no one has access to this private information.
We Are Here to Help!
Our doors are open if you are ready to work with an Oklahoma City estate planning lawyer to put a custom crafted plan in place. You can send us a message to request a consultation appointment, or we can be reached by phone at 405-843-6100.