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Amy Winehouse Will & Estate: If Amy Had Been a Californian…


California Estate PlanningAugust 4, 2011
by Kira S. Masteller

The death of Grammy winner Amy Winehouse on July 23 probably did not surprise the music community; those fans who have followed her career; or friends, family and others aware of her history of drug and alcohol abuse.

The British icon was a popular singer-songwriter known for her powerful deep contralto vocals and her eclectic mix of musical genres including R & B, soul and jazz – not to mention her rebellious lyrics in her hit, Rehab.

Rebel lyrics notwithstanding, whether or not the troubled singer was more responsible in other aspects of her life remain to be seen. And in light of the sudden, Amy Winehouse death, a colleague recently asked me:

“What would happen to the estate if Amy Winehouse died without a will or trust?”

The process for disposing of an estate in England when someone dies without a will or trust in place is in some ways similar to that of the U.S. system. It’s lengthy, complicated and expensive.

But here’s how the probate process would work in California, if the singer had lived here, and there is no Amy Winehouse will or trust in place:

     ▪ If the deceased celebrity was still married to her former husband Blake Fielder-Civil, her assets obtained prior to marriage would be split between Blake (50 percent) and her parents (50 percent equally between them).

     ▪ Amy Winehouse’s assets earned during marriage, if determined to be community property, would be distributed solely to her husband.

     ▪ If the singer’s divorce was final, then her entire estate would be distributed to her parents equally.

The Legal Costs of a Probate Process in California


As I said, dying without a will or trust means your family and friends will incur a lot of costs and the stress of sorting through a lot of bureaucracy. The financial penalties can sometimes be staggering.

For the sake of argument, let’s say the Amy Winehouse estate is worth US$25,000,000. Here’s how the probate process gets expensive:


     ▪ Administrator Fees (Court Appointed Administrator)
     ▪ Attorney Fees (Attorney Representing the Administrator)
     ▪ Court filing fees
     ▪ Surety Bond
     ▪ Publication Fees
     ▪ Appraisal Fees
     ▪ Accounting fees

The fees to the estate administrator and attorney will total at least four percent of the estate (two percent to the administrator and two percent to the administrator’s legal rep), or more than $1M of the $25M estate left to Amy Winehouse’s family. The total costs of probate in this hypothetical case would be north of $1,250,000.

I sometimes tease my clients:

“Don’t wait till you’re dying to come and see me.” Waiting that long is leaving things a bit late, sometimes too late, for the ones you love.

Kira S. Masteller is a Los Angeles Trust, Estate and Probate Attorney and Shareholder in our Tax and Estate Planning Practice Group. Ms. Masteller can be reached via e-mail:

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