Prince passed on April 16, 2016; Bob Marley passed in 1981; Aretha Franklin passed Aug. 16, 2018, and as of this past April, John Singleton has passed on. These celebrities, and many others I haven’t named, all have something profound in common aside from their fame and race: none of them had efficient estate planning in place.
Passing on without a will or a current will in place turned their mourning periods into a frenzy of fighting families. The lack of a will is a social imbalance that affects many black Americans regardless of socioeconomic standing and/or level of fame, as the aforementioned celebrities’ estate issues reveal.
FINANCIAL BLUNDERS OF THE RICH AND FAMOUS
The notion of celebrities dying without a will seems bizarre considering that after their deaths, their output continues to generate massive amounts of income. Think of Michael Jackson as an example. According to Reuters, from June 25, 2009—the day he passed—to June 25, 2010, his estate—including his music royalties, merchandising, licensing and more—brought in a staggering $1 billion in revenue.
However, Jackson had a will in place that allotted his robust financial returns to go to his children with his mother, Katherine Jackson, as the executor of his estate. There was never any risk of confusion or family members with ulterior motives attempting to gain access to an estate with a seemingly endless amount of capital.
On the other hand, Singleton, the Oscar-nominated director of such movies as Boyz N’ the Hood, Poetic Justice, Higher Learning, and the recent FX series, Snowfall, is the latest example of a wealthy individual not having adequate estate planning in place. His alleged $35 million fortune is still being contested in court by his seven children, six of whom were not included in the will he created in 1993 when his eldest daughter, Justice Singleton, was born. According to his outdated will, Justice is the sole beneficiary of her father’s fortune. However, John Singleton’s mother, Sheila Ward, who is the executor of his estate, filed his will in probate court and listed his assets at only $3.8 million. Therefore, an additional $31 million of Singleton’s estate is unaccounted for.
Allegedly, Singleton set up a trust with other assets such as movie rights and other royalties, the value of which has yet to be determined, that doesn’t have to go through probate court. Therefore, inheritance issues involving those assets can be settled quickly, quietly, and more efficiently. Otherwise, the seven siblings are gearing up for a messy court battle that could be lengthy and also expensive. If Singleton’s will had been updated, preferably after each child was born, his offspring would have been financially protected and able to mourn their father in peace.