Arguably the most successful songwriter of all time, John Winston Lennon, was tragically murdered in 1980. With such a sudden death, taking place during what was possibly the peak of his solo career, one must wonder about the specifics of his estate? After all, even by today’s standards, he was what we would consider to be complicated. Lennon, who had divorced his first wife Cynthia in 1967 after fathering his son Julian, remarried Yoko Ono, who went on to bear him another son, Sean.
As part of the 1967 divorce, Lennon set up a trust for Julian to receive £100,000 when he turned 21. However, he had to share that with any other sibling that came along. It would come as no surprise then, to note that in his Will Lennon made no mention of, or provision for, his first born child Julian.
There is nothing truly unique about Lennon’s Will.
It would also come as no surprise that Yoko Ono was made executor of Lennon’s estate. In fact, half of his estate was directly for her benefit, with the remainder funding a trust of which Yoko Ono and an accountant controlled. The terms of the trust are believed to benefit Yoko and their son Sean.
The trust described above was created during his lifetime. Lennon was in control of the terms of that trust which therefore ensured he controlled who managed that fund after his death.
As executor to Lennon’s estate Yoko Ono therefore gained complete control over Lennon’s original song rights and image. The value of the estate is estimated to be about £220 Million which generates an annual income for the benefit of Yoko Ono and their son Sean of approximately $12 million (US).
Of course the continued income generated by the estate could have been higher were it not for the entire Beatles catalogue of music being sold in 1985 for $47.5 million (US) to none other than Michael Jackson.
What did Julian do?
As you could imagine (pun intended) Julian was not pleased, suggesting that Yoko Ono had improperly influenced Lennon. Julian sued for a larger share of the significant estate and eventually settled in 1996, 16 years after Lennon was killed.
Julian reportedly received approximately £20 million and is said to have been content with such an amount given the possibility of being faced with a very lengthy and very expensive legal battle against Yoko Ono, who clearly had an almost limitless fund behind her.
Lessons to be learned
Irrespective of what size estate you leave behind it is very difficult to remove or negate a child from your Will. There are circumstances in which it might be appropriate, what we call disentitling behaviour¸ but in most circumstances it is difficult and should be dealt with head on.
What are the reasons behind leaving them out? Is it not better to record your wishes about why you believe they do not deserve any benefit from your estate?
After divorce or separation, particularly if a child is born to that previous relationship, careful estate planning is necessary to avoid (or lessen) the risk of any potential claim. It is often impossible to appease everyone’s moral entitlement. Sometimes being sensible is the best you can do.
Could Lennon have done more? Of course. He may have created an additional trust, funded by a much smaller portion of his estate that would continue to generate income and would benefit only Julian. If that had been put in place it may have made it more difficult for Julian to mount any type of challenge.
Clause 8 of Lennon’s Will is interesting, in that a lot of people try and include terms such as these in their Wills (or instruct me to include them). Alas, any clause that suggests a beneficiary will be removed from a Will if they attempt to stake a higher claim, is viewed as against Public Policy and would rightfully, be ignored by the Supreme Court thus proving no benefit at all to the will maker.
Every adult must have a valid and up to date will.
If you have been divorced or have a child or children to previous partners then a well-considered and properly thought out estate plan prepared by an experienced solicitor is a must.
There is just too much at stake.
At Welden & Coluccio Lawyers we can assist, advise and guide you through this very important aspect of estate planning, it is more than just a Will!
**You can have a look at John Lennon’s actual Will here.