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Celebrities often bypass their heirs in wills

Do you have an obligation to pass your wealth on to your children?

You may feel a certain moral obligation to do so, but there's no legal obligation forcing you to leave your children anything, no matter what your wealth.

In fact, a look into the wills of many celebrities indicates that passing one's wealth to the next generation isn't as automatic as most people think. For example:

  • Hollywood icon Mickey Rooney left a mere $18,000 to his stepson and nothing at all to his biological children.
  • Tony Curtis, Hollywood royalty from its Golden Age, left nothing to his five children. His sixth wife inherited everything.
  • Joan Crawford of "Mommie Dearest" fame left most of her money to charity. Two of her adopted children got trusts, and two got nothing.
  • Marlon Brando, who was notoriously difficult when he was alive, purposefully excluded one of his eleven children and one grandchild from his will.
  • Michael Jackson's father, Joe, might have expected to inherit some of his son's wealth since he was instrumental in pushing Michael into a music career. However, their poor relationship caused Michael to disinherit his father entirely.
  • Partridge Family star David Cassidy left everything to his son and nothing to his estranged daughter.

Each of these cases holds some lessons for people of more ordinary means and legacies, however. Most of the celebrities made it a point to acknowledge the existence of their disinherited heirs in writing and then specifically stated that those heirs were not being left anything. That way, there was less possibility that disinherited heirs could claim that they were simply forgotten.

Other celebrities, including American Idol star Simon Cowell, musician Sting, and celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey have taken the approach that it's best to inform their children and others of their plans for their wealth early. All have stated that they won't be passing on a great deal of money to their heirs. Making their intentions well-known also makes it easier to enforce the terms of a will when the time comes.

If you plan to leave your wealth to charity or simply disinherit one of your expectant heirs, it's wise to discuss the situation with an attorney during your estate planning. You can strategize with your lawyer about how to best avoid a contest of your will.

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