The Estate of James Marshall “Jimi” Hendrix

Musician Jimi Hendrix died on September 18, 1970; shockingly, his estate was involved in litigation for over 34 years.  How could this possibly happen?  He died without a Will (and with millions of dollars).

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When someone dies without a Will, state law typically determines who will receive an inheritance and how much each heir will receive.  The results are rarely ideal – and, depending on the laws in effect, can be downright appalling.  In Jimi’s case, his potential heirs included two children born out of wedlock, his father, his brother, a girlfriend with whom he was cohabitating at the time of his death, a woman who claimed to be his fiancée and his step-sister.

Initially, Jimi’s father, Al Hendrix, legally denied the claims of his “illegitimate” children and became the sole heir of his son’s estate.  In some circumstances, if children are not specifically included in a Will (or if there is no Will), the children are completely disinherited – a result which many parents find extremely unsettling.  Upon receiving the multi-million dollar estate, Jimi’s father sold the rights to his son’s music to a Panamanian tax shelter that, in return, paid Jimi’s father a fixed annual annuity payment.  The rights to Jimi’s image and likeness were sold to a different company.

Later, in 1993, Al Hendrix claimed to know nothing of these sales, and successfully sued for return of the rights to Jimi’s music and likeness; however, the saga did not end with this lawsuit.  In 2002, upon the death of Al Hendrix, the family discovered that Al had disinherited Jimi’s brother, Leon and left his estate – including all of Jimi’s assets – to his adoptive daughter, Janie, who he also named to serve as Trustee over his Trust.  Leon then proceeded to sue Janie in 2004, claiming that she exerted undue influence over Al and pressured him to exclude Leon from the Will.  Leon’s attorney fees and court costs ended up costing him over $3 million.

Since filing a lawsuit against Janie, Leon and seven other potential beneficiaries posed numerous issues for the court.  Ultimately, Janie was found to have mismanaged the Trust assets – but not before revealing to the court that Leon was a former drug addict.  In light of these discoveries, the court disinherited Leon and removed Janie as Trustee.

Although the resulting litigation was complicated, the solution is very simple.  If Jimi had a Will or Trust in place when he died, his multi-million dollar estate (and his family) would not have been wrapped up in litigation for over three decades.  Those rumored to be closest to Jimi during his lifetime, including his mother, did not receive anything and, with proper estate planning, Jimi could have left his vast estate to those who he wanted to enjoy his legacy – not those who the state decided should inherit a windfall.