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Thursday
Mar102016

Who Is Your Beneficiary? Marilyn Monroe Ultimately Had No Idea

When creating a last Will and testament, it’s important to know your beneficiary. Sadly, that’s not always the case. Marilyn Monroe, one of the world’s most famous icons, didn’t seem to have any idea to whom she left her money.

Acting Coach & Psychiatrist Got Everything:

Marilyn Monroe died at the age of 36 from a drug overdose. The year was 1962 and there have always been questions as to whom she named as beneficiaries. In fact, her business manager, Inez Melson, was allegedly suspicious about Marilyn Monroe’s Will when it was first drafted. 

Monroe’s Will left some money to care for her mentally ill mother and bequeathed some of her personal belongings to Inez Melson. The remainder went to her acting coach and psychiatrist:

  • 25% to her psychiatrist to help those who couldn’t afford psychiatric counselling
  •  75% of the residue (the majority of her estate) was left to Lee Strasberg, her acting coach

A bit strange, but there it is, and Monroe could never have predicted what happened next…

Strasberg’s 2nd Wife Takes Control of Monroe’s Fortune:

Lee Strasberg controlled Monroe’s estate for a short while. Then, his second wife, Anna, took over. Although she only met Monroe one time, she created utter chaos for years. Here’s a brief rundown of what happened:

  1. Multi-million Dollar Lawsuit Over Publicity Rights. Strasberg filed a multi-million-dollar lawsuit over publicity rights of Monroe’s image and likeness – and won. Ironically, she has since earned more money thanks to Monroe than Monroe earned in her lifetime.
  2. Licensing Deal On Products. Strasberg made millions of dollars through a licensing deal with CMG Worldwide who sold products with Monroe’s picture on it such as cigarette lighters, pet clothing, and other “iconic” memorabilia. 
  3. Multi-million Dollar Lawsuit Over Personal Belongings. Strasberg also filed a lawsuit against the heirs of Monroe’s former agent, Inez Melson, for personal belongings in their position. She won and auctioned them off at Christie’s for over $13 million.

Strasberg eventually sold her interest in Monroe’s estate for a reported $20 - $30 million.  Interestingly, Monroe has consistently been one of the top highest earning deceased celebrities since her death. Her estate earned $17 million in 2015 alone.

Consider Everything—Carefully:

When creating an estate plan, it’s important to consider everything very carefully. While you may want a specific person to benefit from your estate (as Monroe wanted for Lee Strasberg), the probability that someone else will get control of your assets is likely unless you provide otherwise. 

Monroe obviously had very good intentions for providing for help to those who are mentally ill.  Had she considered those intentions more carefully, many more people could have been helped.  Instead, someone she met once bilked her estate for their own purposes.

We can all learn from Monroe’s mistakes. If you want to ensure that your family is cared for, please click here to schedule your complimentary Estate Planning Strategy Call with San Francisco’s premier estate planning attorney, Matthew J. Tuller.


 

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