James Douglas “Jim” Morrison died in July 1971 aged just 27 years from a heroin overdose. Most people know him as the lead singer of The Doors, a band who, between the years 1966 and 1971, released a plethora of music. Their work remains popular to this day with the music and associated marketing materials continuing to generate huge income in the form of album re-releases, live albums and royalties.
Morrison has long been noted for the quality of his song writing, vivid lyrics, wild personality and performances. As such, he is regarded by critics and fans as one of the most iconic and influential front men in rock music history. No doubt under the influence of various substances (drug taking in itself has become synonymous with his on stage persona), Morrison was also well known for improvising spoken word poetry passages while the band played live . He was ranked number 47 on Rolling Stone’s list of the “100 Greatest Singers of All Time” and was sometimes referred to by other monikers, as the “Lizard King” and the “King of Orgasmic Rock”.
Whilst the estate had limited cash at the time of his death, as with many celebrities and musicians, the value of the estate is tied to the image, music and royalties flowing from this legacy. Accordingly, the estate had an estimated worth of around $80 million US.
Despite his young age, free-spirit and hard partying lifestyle, Morrison, just two years before his death, actually made a Will. It was a very simple Will, but a Will nevertheless.
The Will left the entire estate to Morrison’s long-time companion, Pamela Courson, and, in the event that she failed to survive him by three months, then the estate would pass to his brother and sister.
After Morrison’s death dozens of women came forward with paternity claims (no harm in trying). While none were successful, the claims certainly slowed proceedings.
To make matters worse, Pamela Courson died three years after that of Morrison, also from a heroin overdose and also at the age of 27 years. As Pamela Courson died without a Will the Morrison fortune would then pass to her parents by operation of intestacy – a legislative procedure whereby written law (rather than a written Will) dictates who benefits from an estate in circumstances where there is no valid Will.
This did not sit well with Jim Morrison’s parents, who, at the time alleged that the common-law marriage to Pamela Courson was not legitimate. They argued that the registration of common-law marriage was not signed, nor properly registered in the State where they resided. Rather, the ceremony was one, of fun. They cited a marriage ceremony Morrison had with an earlier girlfriend in which a pagan marriage ritual was undertaken that involved such things as walking over fire and drinking each other’s blood.
That’s true love right there folks!
To the amazement of some, a Court found that the common-law marriage to Pamela Courson was valid.
Jim’s parents were not done yet.
They then claimed that the Will itself was not valid because he was under the influence of drugs at the time of execution. This was a fair argument to make, given that he was likely to be high more often than not.
If the testator (the person making the Will) was not mentally competent (Alzheimer’s or dementia or indeed under the influence of drugs) or, if they are influenced by another person, so much that the Will does not represent the testator’s wishes free from influence; then the Will is invalid and will not stand.
In the Morrison estate if the Will was invalid then the laws of intestacy would most likely provide the estate to his parents.
An out of Court settlement eventually resolved the matter, with Courson’s parents continuing to manage and control the image, music and royalties.
Despite Jim Morrison doing the right thing and having a Will in place, it was a very simple Will. It just goes to show you that a simple Will is usually not enough.
There are too many what-ifs and maybes that need to be considered and documented for a thorough estate plan to be implemented. This is the case for an estate worth $80 million estate, or one far more humble.
Sometimes, an overly simple Will can actually give rise to more damage than it attempts to resolve. Accordingly, it may cost the estate a lot more to rectify especially if it is unclear or ambiguous.
Every adult must have a valid and up to date Will.
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’s more than just a Will!
Click here to have a closer look at Jim Morrisons Will.