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  • Writer's pictureJenny Rozelle, Host of Legal Tea

Celebrity Estate Planning - Amy Winehouse - Episode 147

Hey there, Legal Tea Listeners! This is your host, Jenny Rozelle. We’re back to the “celebrity estate planning” topic and for today’s episode, we’re going to dive into what happened following the death of Amy Winehouse. As many know on here, I am pretty bad at celebrity names, but even I know Amy Winehouse – so she probably needs absolutely no introduction, but nonetheless, let’s get setup for this episode. Amy was a SUPER famous singer-songwriter, who sadly passed away way too early – at the too early age of 27 years old. As I researched and wrote this episode, I listened to her music. Maybe just wanted to get in the zone! Anyway, some of her most famous songs were like “Back to Black” … “You Know I’m No Good” (which is my personal favorite of hers) … “Body and Soul” (with ol’ Tony Bennett) … “Rehab” (another one of my favorites) … and how could you forget about “Valerie” … she was a really great singer-songwriter, for sure. And, of course, we have to mention her hair and makeup – which she was also famous for.

As we always do, let’s talk a little about Amy, personally, first and then we’ll shift to what happened estate-wise following her passing. According to Wikipedia, Amy was born in North London in 1983. As a child, she navigated childhood after her parents divorced … which also included navigating her hobbies and interests. She attended a couple of theatre schools in London … learned how to play guitar … and even started writing her own music at 14. When she was only 19 years old, she was signed by 19 Management. That was really the beginning of her career really. After, she bounced a couple times between management companies. Then, in the fall of 2003, Amy released her first album titled, “Frank.” That resulted in many nominations and awards – and really put her “on the map” so to speak. Three years later, her next album, Back to Black, was released in the fall of 2006. It, too, had immense amounts of positive feedback, nominations, and awards. Actually, Back to Black ended up being the world’s 7th largest-selling album in 2008. Good for her!

These two albums carried her for a few years. In 2011, according to Wikipedia, she was touring internationally, but was met with a lot of frustrated fans. At times, she would show up and be unable to sing due to being too intoxicated. Unfortunately, in June of 2011, she made the decision to cancel the rest of her shows and it was relayed that to fans, according to BBC News, that she would be “given as long as it takes to sort herself out.” Her final performance was actually with her goddaughter, where she made a surprise appearance in July 2011. Sadly, she ended up dying a mere 3 days after that performance.

More personally speaking, there’s no denying her issues relating to drugs and alcohol – as well as mental health issues and emotional trauma that she was trying to navigate. According to Wikipedia, these problems continued to threaten her career – and in fact, Amy was even not allowed to travel and perform at the Grammys one time due to failing a drug test. It seems that Amy’s music career not only ended too soon, but is often sadly overshadowed by comments relating to her drug and alcohol use and abuse. Super sad, but true. She also battled many mental health issues and past emotional trauma (from person events) that really just resulted in a troubled life. She did attempt rehabilitation, programming, etc. to help, but problems persisted essentially to her death in 2011.

On July 23, 2011, according to Wikipedia, Amy’s bodyguard saw her lying in bed and tried to wake her up. He was unsuccessful, but didn’t think  much about it since she’d often stay up very late and sleep well into the morning. He came back a few hours later to check on her again, and again he was unsuccessful. That’s when he noticed that Amy was not breathing and didn’t appear to have a pulse, so he called emergency services. Once they arrived, Amy was pronounced dead. It was eventually released that while there were no illegal substances found in her body, Amy’s blood alcohol content was .416, more than 5x the legal-drink-drive limit. The coroner spoke about the report, “the unintended consequence of so much [to] drink was her sudden and unexpected death.” 

After her passing, according to Forbes, it was initially reported that she an estate plan, a Last Will and Testament specifically, was located and that it was “ironclad” against her former husband (who she got a divorce from). Though, when time passed and more details were released to the public, it was actually determined that was merely a rumor. Rather, Amy died without an estate plan. What does that mean, Legal Tea Listeners? If you thought of that weird word “intestacy laws” you are right. We’ve talked about intestacy laws before on here – basically, because so many people, famous people and regular people, died without any type of estate plan, there are these funky-named laws called intestate rules or intestacy laws that give those people an estate plan … well, that the state law builds for you. So, that’s what happened with Amy’s Estate. Her Estate was governed by her state’s intestacy laws.

According to Forbes, too, the probate records for Amy’s Estate states that the value of her Estate was listed at around $6.7 Million in US Dollars. Though, after taxes and other debts, the records state that the value would end up likely being around $4.66 Million in US Dollars. Interestingly, on these celebrity estate planning episodes, you know … something I have noticed is some celebrity’s estate values are a tad surprising. As the Forbes article mentions, many did believe her estate would be worth significantly more – even maybe as high as $15-20 Million. In addition to the value of her Estate, the probate records also confirmed a couple of things for us – first, the Executor or the Administrator of the Estate was her Dad, Mitch Winehouse. Second, since the Estate was governed by those intestacy laws, her Estate’s beneficiaries were confirmed to be her parents, Mitch and Janis. (To note, too, her parents were divorced – and had been since Amy was 9 years old.)

Now, I did see some reports, some rumors that Amy’s former husband, Blake Fielder-Civil, attempted to file a claim against Amy’s Estate – but I truly can’t confirm if that was true. I have a sneaking suspicion that was a rumor, but know that there were some “reports” of that – but I can’t find anything confirming them. Nonetheless, I do not believe Blake received a dime from her Estate as in after she died – whether through her Estate or via a claim. I believe I saw that when they got divorced, there may have been money given to Blake, as part of a routine divorce settlement. So, back to of Amy’s assets after she passed away – we talked about the Estate getting distributed to her parents, Mitch and Janis. Ultimately, Mitch and Janis created and funded the Amy Winehouse Foundation, according to BBC News. Not only that, but Amy’s brother, Alex Winehouse, gave up his full-time journalist job to work at/for the Amy Winehouse Foundation.

I stumbled upon an article in The Guardian where her brother, Alex, was interviewed about an exhibit that was opening up at a local (to London-area) Jewish Museum entitled Amy Winehouse: a Family Portrait. Well, through The Guardian article, it really gave a glimpse into the Winehouses’ lives – and how they recognize the troubles that Amy had and caused, but at the end of the day, Amy was their daughter and Alex’s sister. They were family. Anyway, if you really nerd out over Amy, you should definitely check out the article – it’s linked in the source links for the episode.

Back to the Foundation … so the Amy Winehouse Foundation was established in September 2011, a mere few months after Amy’s death in July 2011. According to their website, “Everything [they] do is designed to build meaningful connections with the children and young people [they] work with – to form relationships that foster hope and optimism.” Their website, you should check out. They offer a lot of amazing programs in the UK – music therapy for young children, recovery housing for young women, a recovery pathways program for young people, etc. They also offer a program to provide financial support for music projects even outside the UK. Alex, in The Guardian article, when talking about Amy’s death and he and Amy’s Dad …Alex said, “Dad had two choices – he could either let it destroy him, or use Amy’s memory to invigorate himself to do something good.”

A little more recent news relating to Amy’s Estate before we wrap up – just at the end of 2023, Mitch, Amy’s Dad, still as the Administrator of Amy’s Estate, reportedly filed a lawsuit against two of Amy’s very close friends, Naomi Parry and Catriona Gourlay, by arguing that they sent some of Amy’s personal property items to auctions in 2021 and 2022. Mitch’s argument is that they put the items for sale “in their own names and on their own behalf” and therefore “converted [Amy’s] property to their own use.” That lawsuit was filed at the tail end of 2023, and in February of 2024, they fired back a defense against Mitch’s lawsuit. That’s the latest thing on this piece of her Estate that I could find – I didn’t see anything about them settling, or the lawsuit being done. So, I’m going to use my best lawyer guessing skills and say that the lawsuit is probably still “active” and ongoing. So, just when you all thought that Amy’s Estate was probably done and over with … well, you’re wrong! Things are still getting addressed in 2024, after her unfortunate too-early death in 2011.

Alrighty, I think we’re ready to 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 -or- maybe they are just generally good things to know/be aware of so you don’t slip up and turn into a cautionary tale one day. Always good stuff on those episodes! Next week, we are going to talk about, what are often called, simultaneous death provisions in an estate plan. I actually have a very personal story about it that I am going to share that definitely dealt with this kind of thing, this kind of topic. Alrighty, talk to you next week – take care and be well!


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