Celebrities and Probate: Amy Winehouse's Estate

Last July, the America was shocked and saddened by the death of the famous singer Amy Winehouse. The 27-year-old passed away from an accidental alcohol poisoning in her home in London. When she passed away, reports told the public that she had a will which had been updated after her divorce. Probate records contradict these statements, saying that she did not have a valid will which helped to divide her estate. Winehouse died intestate.

Her estate is worth approximately 2.94 million pounds, or $6.7 million before taxes and other debts. Once Winehouse's debts and tax payments are satisfied, her estate will rest at about $4.66 million. While this is a significant amount of money, many Winehouse fans speculated that she was worth much more. Most assumed that her total assets would rest at $15 to $20 million. Probate court will only evaluate Winehouse's personal assets that were held in her name when she died. This means that anything that she owned jointly will simply be handed over to the other owner. Also, if Winehouse had a life insurance policy or another sort of beneficiary designation, this will be handled outside of court and avoid being factored into her total worth.

Along with these factors, if Winehouse had a trust then anything within that trust would be exempt from probate. Because the singer did not have a will, most people assume that she did not have a trust either, and no evidence of this type of account has been recovered. According to Forbes, Winehouse's ex-husband will not receive any of his former wife's earnings. He is currently serving a jail sentence for burglary related to a drug addiction. Some have speculated that Winehouse was romantically tied to her husband even after their marriage was dissolved. Because of this, they reason, she would have given him some or possibly all of her estate. Since there is not a will to govern this decision, he will be left with nothing. Also bereft of an inheritance is Winehouse's brother.

According to the probate documents, Winehouse's father is the official estate administrator, and both he and his wife (Amy's mother) will receive all of Amy's personal assets. Forbes says that Amy is one of the dozens of famous celebrities who died with large fortunes and no wills. When investigators believed that she had a will, the public applauded Winehouse for her foresight. If this were true, she could have planned the division of her estate to her liking, and had a say in who received what assets. Instead, she has left the entire estate to her parents and has no say in what is done with her possessions from here on out.

Without any guidelines to follow, Amy's parents are free to use her fortune however they desire. Amy Winehouse also missed the opportunity to avoid estate taxes with early planning, and her fortune has diminished considerably due to this mistake. While probate court has settled the issue of inheritance in this case, often times lacking a will in a probate situation can create a nightmare for family members. Possible heirs will compete for items they feel entitled to, which causes family tension. Wills do not cost that much to prepare, but you will want a probate attorney to aid you when you compile one. No adult with a significant amount of personal assets should ever be without a will. Exercise foresight and prepare your estate plan today, so that you will not have to suffer the consequences of leaving the destiny of your fortune to the whims of the probate court.