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Wills of the Rich and Famous are public record!

This article is intended for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice.

Estate planning and finances may often be a taboo topic, only brought up with the persons closest to an individual or maybe not at all. The details written in a Will are typically desired to remain private, which they are during a person’s lifetime, but most people are not aware that Wills will become public record. Even celebrities, whose lives are mostly public, would most likely want the details of their Wills private.

After death, the Will is filed with the clerk of the county in which the decedent lived, at which time it becomes public record. Florida law requires that the original Will be deposited with the clerk of the court within 10 days (Statute 732.901 Production of wills.— (1) The custodian of a will must deposit the will with the clerk of the court having venue of the estate of the decedent within 10 days after receiving information that the testator is dead). This means that once the Will has been deposited, anyone can request a copy of the Will and see who the decedent devised their assets to. A simple way to avoid this is to create a Pour-Over Will which devises the property to a Trust. The contents of a Trust remain private and only to the knowledge of the beneficiaries and the person who handles distribution of the property, known as the Trustee.

Interestingly, numerous celebrities, politicians, musicians, and even Presidents have had Wills that later became public record. Some notable persons include Marilyn Monroe, who devised a majority of her estate to actor and director, Lee Strasberg, and then to her psychotherapist to continue the works of psychiatric institutions; President Calvin Coolidge, who specifically disinherited his son and devised his entire estate to his wife; and Jerry Garcia of the Grateful dead, who despite leaving between one-fifth and one-tenth of his residuary estate to his wife and children, left a clause in his Will bequeathing them each $1.00.

Perhaps one of the more interesting Wills of the Rich and Famous is the generations-long disputes, disparities, and disinheritances of the Hilton family regime. Conrad Hilton, who founded the Hilton Hotel brand in the early 1900s and Paris Hilton’s great-grandfather, had drafted 32 Wills during his lifetime. He devised a majority of his estate to his non-profit foundation, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, believing in a strong work ethic and planning to “not leave unearned wealth to relatives.” Conrad did plan to leave $750,000 of Hilton Hotels and Trans World Airlines, Inc. stock to his son, Barron Hilton (Paris’ grandfather), with the rest of Conrad’s estate devised to his other children in significantly lesser amounts. Barron was not satisfied with his father’s bequests and contested the Will, suing the charitable foundation for the entirety of the Hilton stock and the ability to purchase the stock at its market value at the time of Conrad’s death. The Will contest began in 1983 and ended in 1988, with Barron inheriting $4,000,000 worth of shares of the Hilton company. Barron Hilton in his later years decided to further the Hilton legacy of disparities in inheritances. Specifically, after Paris Hilton’s infamous early-2000s antics, Barron disinherited her. Barron left 97% of his estate to the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, with the remaining 3% split between his family members – with the exception of Paris.

If you are concerned about the privacy of your estate plan, contact an estate planning attorney.

This information was gathered from Wills of the Rich and Famous: A Fascinating Glimpse at the Legacies of Celebrities by Herbert E. Nass, Esq.

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