Marilyn Monroe’s plan illustrates what can happen when you fail to control who inherits your estate. The famous actress and model passed away in August of 1962, leaving the bulk of her estate to her acting coach, Lee Strasberg. When Strasberg passed away, his third wife, Anna, inherited Marilyn’s estate from him – even though Marilyn and Anna never knew one another.
Anna eventually licensed Monroe’s likeness and products to hundreds of companies including Mercedes-Benz, Coca-Cola, and others – earning millions. In 1999, many of Monroe’s belongings were auctioned off for more than $1 million dollars. Among the items sold was the dress Monroe famously wore while singing happy birthday to President Kennedy. Anna Strasberg eventually sold the remainder of Monroe’s estate to another branding company for an estimated $20 to $30 million dollars.
It is highly unlikely that Monroe would have wanted Anna Strasberg, who she had never met, to profit from her image and her belongings. However, because Monroe failed to control who actually inherited her estate, that is precisely what happened.
Rather than leave her estate outright to Lee Strasberg, Monroe could have left her entire estate in trust for the benefit of Mr. Strasberg during his lifetime. After his passing, the balance of the estate could have gone to individuals or charities of Monroe’s choosing.
We often see this unintended inheritance in second marriages, where a surviving spouse inherits the estate and then directs it to their own children or family. The result is that the estate, often including family heirlooms, ends up in the hands of people that the deceased never intended to receive them.
The lesson is clear, carefully think through who you want to receive your estate, and then make sure your estate plan is drafted to ensure that is what happens.This, and other estate planning tips are covered in my book What Happens to Them? What every parent needs to know about estate planning. You can request a copy by clicking here.