For those with considerable wealth, they’re seemingly always surrounded by financial and legal people, all with sound advice. When you’re a celebrity, multiply it by ten. That’s why it’s difficult to understand L’Wren Scott’s motives now that her will has been read. Scott, a well recognized celebrity who also happened to be in a serious relationship with Rolling Stones’ founder Mick Jagger, took her own life in March. Since then, her will has been unveiled and it’s causing more than a few hurt feelings – not to mention the legal inconsistencies.
Scott left her entire estate, valued at $9 million, to Jagger. She also left nothing at all for her two siblings – and they’re not taking it well. In New York, the law is clear: if you die intestate (without a will), a drawn out process begins in which a fiduciary is appointed by the courts. Scott recognized the importance and made sure those bases were covered. Beyond that, it gets complicated when trying to understand her reasoning.
As mentioned, she left her estate to Jagger and as for her siblings, they’ve been invited, via a personal message in her will, to “start a lawsuit”. That’s exactly what will happen since New York law also is clear on what happens when the obvious does not: the next of kin is assumed to receive the estate and when that didn’t happen, those siblings now must either consent to her wishes or begin a court hearing.
Scott’s will is less than a year old, too. This could present the opportunity for those siblings to claim her mind wasn’t right and she lacked the necessary legal capacity to properly execute it. Make no mistake: this can drag on for years, but they just might win. Further complicating matters is that an attorney in California drafted her will. Further, the attorney overnighted the will to her and did not actually witness her sign it. Again, this could be grounds for overturning the will since it very well may not meeting the necessary formalities for its legality.
Next, we take a look at her decision to stop at a will. If she wanted to “lawsuit-proof” it, she could have – and indeed, should have – established a trust for Jagger. This would have saved him a lot of headaches that are now going to affect his life.
Consider the dynamics: Jagger’s already worth more than $300 million. Imagine his tax bracket. This gift Scott left him, of course, increases that estate. When he dies, there will be millions due in estate taxes because she failed to set up a proper revocable trust. Now, though, it’s part of his taxable state, creditors can actually come after him for that $9 million and she could have left instructions for how she wanted any remaining inheritance to be distributed at the time of his own death. Had she done this, she would have avoided the now-necessary court hearings, her siblings wouldn’t have been forced to consent to the will or battle it out in court with Jagger’s lawyers and in fact, she could have even put a “no contest” clause in place that would have sealed the deal in terms of preventing her siblings from any kind of legal recourse. Naturally, that works best when those siblings are actually left something, which Scott’s weren’t.
The biggest purpose this latest legal brouhaha serves is a reminder for others of what not to do. Scott would have fared far better had she met with an estate planning lawyer in New York who truly had the best intentions at heart and who could have avoided what’s sure to be a costly and time consuming process for her siblings and the man she loved.
The Law Offices of Barton P. Levine is a member of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys.