Jimi Hendrix: A legendary estate battle

Posted by Gregory Singleton | Sep 15, 2020 | 0 Comments

September 18, 2020 will be the 50th anniversary of Jimi Hendrix's death.  In spite of a professional career lasting only 4 years, Jimi Hendrix is considered one of the greatest and most influential guitarists of all time.

Death Intestate

In September 18, 1970, Jimi Hendrix died from asphyxiating on his own vomit. At the young age of 27, Hendrix had not bothered to draft a will or plan his estate. At the time he had a mere $20,000 in the bank, owed back taxes and other debts, was unmarried, and had no real property. But what his estate would become has created a legendary litigation story.

When a person dies without a will, the Courts turn to the statutes to determine where assets are distributed. In Minnesota, property first goes to a spouse, or a spouse and children. If there are neither, then parents receive the property. And so on, and so forth – the distribution statutes are long and complicated, intending to cover all situations.

In the case of Jimi Hendrix, he was a resident of New York when he died. This means his estate would be distributed under the laws of that state – not the law of where he died. Under New York law, with no spouse or known children, Hendrix's estate passed to his father. It did not matter that his father was estranged. It also did not matter that arguably the relative to whom Hendrix was closest was his brother, Leon. Without a will, Hendrix's actual desires were supplanted by the statutory assumption of his desires.

Jimi Hendrix Estate Litigation

The story doesn't end there, of course. Hendrix's brother, Leon contested the will and litigation ensued. Hendrix's daughter also tried to contest the will, but because her relation to Hendrix was not recognized in any court, her attempt failed. In all, over 30 years of litigation ensued, of one form or another.

Eventually, when Hendrix's father died, the Hendrix estate was left to the father's adopted daughter from a second marriage. Allegedly, she had perhaps met Hendrix maybe four times, and for less than ten minutes at a time each time. Hendrix's close brother Leon was almost entirely cut out of his father's will. Originally he was to be left $25 million in a trust, but instead the will was changed to leave him nothing more than a gold record. At the time, in 2004, the Hendrix estate was worth over $80 million dollars. Not bad for someone who recorded only three records in a career lasting no more than 4 years.

It does not take much speculation to conclude that how things ended up – with everything going to the estranged father, the beloved brother being cut out of the will, and the estate ending up in the hands of a distant relative with no blood relation – is not how Hendrix would have wanted things to be were he given a choice. But without a will, the Hendrix estate ended up where it was legally bound. Not an ideal situation.

Takeaway

The takeaway to the Jimi Hendrix estate story is two-fold:

  1. Loss of Control: If you don't draft a will, you give up any right to determine where you property goes after you die. And it may surprise you where the statute directs your property too.
  2. Estate Planning & Major Life Events: Many people avoid planning their estate because they think it is too early and not yet needed. But it's the unexpected death that can cause the most chaos. There are certain life events for which you should definitely consider planning or updating your estate:
    1. New Baby: Regardless of whether it is your first your forth, or an adoption.
    2. Marriage: If you think that your estate always passes to your spouse, you might be surprised. And remember that the spouse is not automatically in charge of health decisions if you become incapacitated.
    3. Second Marriage: These can be tricky, especially if there are children involved. A prenuptial agreement and marital planning may be appropriate to make sure your desires are met.
    4. Divorce: There are statutory rules for what happens to your estate when you divorce, but you may want to be the one to decide rather than the courts.
    5. Long Term Relationship: If you are in a long term, permanent relationship but not married, remember that your partner has zero rights to your estate. There is no such thing as common law marriage in Minnesota.
    6. Leaving Home: When you first are an adult and leaving home for the first time, your parents no longer have a right to have a say in your life. That also means that they have no legal access to your information. You may need to put together a health care directive, financial power of attorney, and if going to college, a FERPA waiver.
    7. New Business: If you start a new business or become an owner or partner in an existing one, you need to do some estate planning. At the very least, a business succession plan needs to be put in place.
    8. New Home: If you don't have an estate plan when you buy a home, you need to put one together. Anytime you purchase a new home or other property, your estate plan should be updated.
    9. Moving Residence: If you move from one state to another, you need to make sure your will and estate plan are valid under the applicable state law.
    10. Significant Inheritance: The right inheritance can change your financial picture substantially. You need to make sure your estate plan reflects your actual financial situation.
    11. Significant Accomplishment: Intellectual property such as, say, recording Purple Haze, would be an excellent time to update one's estate.

If you have recently had a major life event and need to create or review an estate plan, contact Signature Law for a free consultation.

About the Author

Gregory Singleton

Trusted Legal Advisor Gregory Singleton is a skilled attorney, experienced in both litigation and transactional work. He has tried multi-million-dollar cases and has negotiated multi-billion dollar contracts. With Signature Law, his goal is to make the law accessible to you, your families, and y...

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