Celebrity deaths are frequently followed by drawn-out legal battles over the superstar’s estate. That might not be the case, though, with David Bowie.
Bowie was an innovator, artist, and true creative genius. His passing last month shocked and saddened millions of people all over the world, a reflection of the impact his decades-long career had on so many lives.
Given his reputation as a visionary, perhaps it’s no surprise that Bowie’s estate plan reflects real wisdom. The details have just begun to emerge, and there are lessons in them that we can all take to heart.
The Details of David Bowie’s Estate Plan
According to The New York Times, Mr. Bowie’s 20-page estate plan (worth an estimated $100 million) includes the following provisions:
- His body was to be cremated and the ashes scattered in Bali, in accordance with the local Buddhist customs there. (A special note, though, provided that even if his body couldn’t be cremated in Bali, his ashes should still be spread there.)
- His multi-million-dollar SoHo apartment goes to his widow, Iman Abdulmajid Jones.
- Half of the rest of the estate also goes to Ms. Jones.
- 25% of the estate goes to his son from his first marriage, Duncan Jones.
- 25% of the estate goes to his daughter with Iman, Alexandria Zahra Jones (held in trust because she is not yet 18).
- His mountain retreat in Ulster County, New York goes to Alexandria too (also held in trust).
- $2 million goes to “Coco,” his personal assistant of many years.
- Bowie’s stock in a company called Opossum Inc. also goes to Coco.
- $1 million goes to Bowie’s nanny, Marion Skene.
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Lessons We Can Learn from David Bowie’s Estate Planning
The fact that David Bowie even had an estate plan already put him way ahead of most people. Sadly, the majority of adults in America do not have an estate plan in place. Celebrities typically do, though as mentioned earlier, they are often woefully inadequate.
So far, Mr. Bowie’s plan seems to stand out as one of the better-crafted plans we’ve seen from celebrities. Using trusts to provide for his minor-age daughter was especially wise.
While the terms of such trusts are rarely made public (indeed, privacy is among the key benefits of a trust), we do know that trusts afford estate planners a great deal of customization and control over the assets they’ll leave behind. It is likely that Bowie was able to provide for his daughter without running the risk of spoiling her at a young age.
It was also remarkably insightful of him to include a “Plan B” for his cremation. Indeed, for reasons that are not publicly known, Bowie’s body could not be cremated in Bali. Instead, cremation took place in New Jersey on January 12, 2016.
Like most celebrity wills, Bowie’s may ultimately fall short of perfection. The New York Times mentions that he did not include an individual breakdown of his holdings as a part of his estate planning.
Similarly, Robin Williams was widely heralded for leaving a comprehensive estate plan behind. But his will failed to provide for several specific family heirlooms, and that omission ultimately pitted the family members against each other in a protracted legal battle.
The Times also notes that Bowie’s estate plan was last updated in 2004 — nearly twelve years before his death. Estate planning is never a “one-and-done” proposition. Regular updates, at least once every few years, are essential, especially for large estates. Whether that proves problematic for the family later on remains to be seen. We certainly hope not.
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