Unquestionably, Marlon Brando was one of the leading actors of the 20th century. The well-known Godfather was always in firm control … until it came to his estate that is. Marlon Brando never followed convention. He won his Oscar for Best Actor in 1973 for The Godfather, but Brando rejected the award as a protest to the treatment of Native Americans by the film industry. Too bad he failed to follow the norms when it came to estate planning. In part due to questions about his true intentions as expressed in his will and trust, Brando’s estate was involved in more than two dozen lawsuits by 2009 — five years after his death. He passed away on July 1, 2004, at 80 years of age, suffering from a host of ailments including dementia and lung failure.
Right before his death eleven years ago, Marlon Brando couldn’t leave his bedroom and was so paranoid that he wanted the room padlocked at his death so no one would steal the buttons off of his shirt!
A recent article in Reelz, titled “Marlon Brando's Legacy Marred by Dozens of Lawsuits,” reports that even with this somewhat questionable mental state, Brando signed an amendment to his will just 13 days before his death. This new will replaced his personal assistant of 50 years and his long-time business manager with new executors. Although there have been claims that Marlon wasn’t competent and that the will change was a forgery, his new executors have kept tight control over his estate, image, and legacy—suing everyone from a furniture company selling a Brando chair, to Madonna (Madonna?) for using his image in a concert. The executors also have made a development deal for his private island in the South Pacific that will turn it into a swanky, eco-friendly resort for the rich and famous.
Is this what Brando wanted, many ask.
Likewise, many of Brando’s closest friends and loved ones have sued his estate, arguing that the executors have failed to honor his intentions, such as refusing to honor gifts and promises that were made while he was alive to these long-time friends and associates.
The Reelz article cautions that people often make the common mistake of assuming their executors will honor their true wishes. They think this even when such intentions are expressed verbally and when the will and trust aren’t changed to include the new wishes. The lawsuits filed involving Brando's estate were based on this precise issue. There was no one who said Brando told them they would receive more who actually got what they wanted. His estate spent millions of dollars on legal fees, and no one was happy with the results.
Don’t leave your affairs up to chance! Talk to an experienced estate planning attorney and set out specific, detailed instructions in your will or trust to avoid headaches and litigation such as those of the Brando estate in the future.
Reference: Reelz (February 20, 2015) “Marlon Brando's Legacy Marred by Dozens of Lawsuits”