Celebrity Estate Planning - Aaron Carter - Episode 74
Hey there, Legal Tea Listeners! This is your host, Jenny Rozelle. Today, we’re on the “estate planning of the rich and famous” topic and for today’s episode, we’re going to dive into what happened estate-wise following the passing of the famous “teen pop” musician, Aaron Carter, who is known for his songs, “I Want Candy,” “That’s How I Beat Shaq,” and “Aaron’s Party.” His brother, who is arguably more famous than Aaron, is Nick Carter from the very-famous boy band, Backstreet Boys. As always, let’s talk a little bit about Aaron as a person to learn a little more him…
According to his Wikipedia page, Aaron was born in December 1987, so yes – he was a young’n when he passed away. His family consisted of his parents, Jane and Robert, and siblings, Nick, Angel (who was Aaron’s twin sister), Bobbie, and Leslie. His parents ended up divorcing many years later (in 2004), and actually Aaron found out about his parents’ divorce a mere hour before filming a show on MTV called MTV Cribs, which was a show that allowed “normal people” like us to see where and how celebrities lived – we got to see their fancy houses, fancy cars, etc. So yeah, right before MTV Cribs came over to film an episode on Aaron, he found out about his parents divorcing. That’s sad! In other family-related news, according to a People Magazine article by Jack Irvin and Steve Helling, his sister, Leslie, died of an overdose in 2012 and his Dad, Robert, died of a heart attack in 2017.
Speaking of his parents … as I described him a second ago, he was a “teen pop star” and his biggest hits, “I Want Candy,” “That’s How I Beat Shaq,” and “Aaron’s Party,” came out when he was under the age of 18. For that reason, his parents were in charge of his business/management decisions and financials. In a Huffington Post news article by Lisa Capretto, Aaron claimed his parents were supposed to be putting 15% of his money into an account for his benefit – and when he turned 18, he said, “I got, like, $2 million … I should have had at least $20 million in my account.” He further shared, “There was a lot of neglect on my parents’ part. They didn’t do a lot of things right.” It’s reported that when Aaron turned 18, he discovered he owed $4 million in tax liens.
In an interview with Oprah on a piece she did titled “Where Are They Now?” Aaron shared that his parents did not set aside the 15% of earnings that they were supposed to. He talked to Oprah about the Coogan Act, which according to a Wealth Management.com piece by Anna Sulkin, the Coogan Act “is a law designed to protect child performers and to safeguard a minimum of 15% of the child’s gross income (and therefore not reduced by management, agent, or other fees) for when they reach the age of majority, as well as protect them from exploitation and abuse.” Aaron shared that he actually wanted to create his own version of the Coogan Act and call it the Carter Law – and according to Sulkin’s piece, Aaron wanted to do this to protect future young stars by helping them get setup in a way to distribute the earnings to the child in staggered distributions over their adult life.
I’m sure what transpired was a he-said, she-said sort of situation. Who knows if his parents actually did wonky stuff or not – regardless, what we DO know is that Aaron filed bankruptcy in 2013. So, the world got to learn all about Aaron’s finances – or lack thereof – at the young age of 26. According to TMZ, who got access to the bankruptcy court documents, Aaron listed his assets total as $8,232.16 with debt and liabilities totaling over $2.2 million (which included an American Express credit card bill that exceeded $31,000). That debt/liability amount did not count what he owed to the IRS.
Throughout his life, he had a very rollercoaster-like relationship with most of his family – with his parents, of course; for example, what he accused them of doing money-wise with his money; his siblings – he accused his sister, Leslie, and his brother, Nick, of some rather inappropriate things. And again, like the whole thing involving Aaron, his parents, and his money, I’m sure it’s all a classic case of he-said, she-said … but the thing to know and take away is that he and his family had quite a strained relationship.
Aaron, of course, was most known for his music, but through rubbing elbows with other famous musicians, according to his Wikipedia page, he met and dated some “big names” like Hilary Duff and Lindsay Lohan. His “teenage days” were definitely in the past – because he dated them when he was in his literal teenage years. According to a People Magazine article by Skyler Caruso, more recently, however, in early 2020, Aaron met Melanie Martin and they ended up getting engaged in June 2020. Fast forward a little bit of time, they announced Melanie was pregnant and they had a child in November 2021. The child’s name is Prince. From the beginning, he and Melanie were definitely on-and-off again … and even according to the People Magazine article, they relationship status at the time of Aaron’s passing was unclear.
According to his Wikipedia page, on November 5, 2022, just slightly over a month ago from when this episode will air, Aaron died at his him at the young age of 34 years old. He was discovered in the bathtub by a housekeeper. According to the People Magazine article by Irvin and Helling, law enforcement sources shared that while Aaron was found deceased in his bathtub, there were prescription pills and drug paraphernalia in his bedroom. They further shared that they believe he lost consciousness and ultimately drowned. However, that is merely speculation as the official cause of death is still pending. An autopsy was conducted and things remain “TBD” as they wait on toxicology report results.
Following his passing, according to a Daily Mail article by Jack Newman, it’s been confirmed that Aaron did not have an estate plan, so he serves as a classic case of not only yet another celebrity dying without one, but also a YOUNG celebrity – he died at 34. Some would think that there’s a lot of life left at that age – but as we all know, life is know guaranteed, which is why it’s so important to #DoYourEstatePlan. So with Aaron dying without a Will, his very-modest-for-a-celebrity Estate will go by the State of California’s intestacy laws built for those that pass away without a Will. Here, it seems that his son, Prince, will receive any equity in Aaron’s Estate. Since Melanie, his maybe-fiancé, and Aaron were not yet married, she has no standing to take under his Estate – though, depending on custodial arrangements with Prince, she may manage Prince’s inheritance from Aaron (if there’s anything left after debts).
It's really, at this point, too soon to have definite answers as to who is going to receive anything from Aaron’s Estate, and how they’re going to receive it (like will Prince, since he’s a minor, be setup in some sort of custodial account … and will Melanie be the one that manages it as Prince’s surviving parent?). Speaking of that, by the way, according to the Daily Mail article, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services got involved with Aaron and Melanie “because of the domestic disputes between the tumultuous couple” and ultimately they removed Prince from their home. Actually, Prince has been living with Melanie’s mother since September 2022. It doesn’t particularly sound like Melanie lost custody – like legally-speaking – but at the very least, the Department of Children and Family Services was involved, but we’ll have to see what the Court decides to do with anything that Prince will receive. Will they put it under Melanie’s management? Or not? Only time will give us those answers.
Despite his attorney’s high recommendation (due to having a minor child), Aaron just never did any estate planning. Though, that feels like it’s often the case with these celebrities that do not have any sort of estate plan. I remember talking about this in the Legal Tea episode on Prince, I think it was that episode at least, that I’ll never understand how so many celebrities are surrounded by lawyers – lawyers likely review their contracts, lawyers likely assist them through legal proceedings like divorce, custody arrangements, and bankruptcy, etc. I mean, lawyers are always around these kind of people and as much as these lawyers do or do not scream from the rooftops about these celebrities getting their estate planning done … at some point, the celebrity has to take ownership and get it done. Some do, some don’t. We see both types here on Legal Tea, huh?
So, what can we learn from Aaron and what’s going on more recently? Well, a lot … really. First and foremost, if you are above the age of 18 AND/OR have minor children, you need an estate plan. I don’t care if you have a negative net worth, to be frank. Who do you want DEALING with the after-death stuff? Who is in charge? Or, even if you have not passed away, what if something happens, you fall and boink your head, and now need someone to make health care and/or financial decisions for you? You need a Power of Attorney for Financial Affairs and a Power of Attorney for Healthcare Decisions. I think too many people think, “Oh I don’t really have an estate … I don’t need a plan.” That’s just wrong!
Something else we can learn from Aaron … well, as described in the Wealth Management.com article, Aaron was quite vocal about his mental health struggles and addiction struggles. Some attribute many of his outbursts and past comments about various family members were directly related to these struggles. As we all saw get plastered all over the news, Britney Spears’ guardianship shined a big light on guardianships and when they are appropriate … and when they may not be. As the Wealth Management.com article points out, and I agree with, those that battle significant mental health issues and/or addiction issues, they may need professional assistance in managing their finances (and making decisions on their finances). Though, oftentimes, those individuals refuse to accept help.
A guardianship would have probably been unnecessary (and probably not granted) if someone attempted to pursue guardianship over Aaron. Though, he could have had someone else, even if it was a professional (and not his family members), assist in financial and legal decision-making through a Power of Attorney or Trust. In those endeavors, not only would he have possible gotten help with managing all of financial affairs (and heck, maybe he could have avoided filing bankruptcy back in 2013), but he probably would have been encouraged to create some sort of device like a Will or Trust to pass assets cleanly to his son, Prince. Then, we may not be here today talking about it him on Legal Tea. Again, you can lead someone to the water, but it’s up to them to drink it…
Okay, let’s wrap this episode up – next week we’re back to a “cautionary tale” episode where we talk about real-life clients, real-life cases that I, or my office, have worked on. During that episode, we’re going to be talking about disinheriting people – you know, to make sure that people you DON’T want to get your money…don’t get it. We’ll talk about stories where disinheriting has gone well, and where it’s gone not-so-well. Tune in for that next week, but until then, Legal Tea Listeners,– take care and be well!