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  • Writer's pictureJenny Rozelle, Host of Legal Tea

Celebrity Estate Planning - David Bowie - Episode 123

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 David Bowie. Before I dive in, this reminds me of something I saw on Twitter the other day about someone that also does a podcast – and he said that he didn’t really care about his subscriber count, number of listens, etc. That, even though it’s marketing 101 to make sure there’s ROI (return on investment of time), he’s okay with not tracking the metrics of his podcast. I can TOTALLY relate. You know, now that we’re 123 episodes in, if I was truly cared about the subscriber count, number of listens, etc. I probably should buy fancy equipment to make the audio better, market the podcast better, etc. But I don’t care about the metrics. I’m not doing this podcast to try and “make it big” and turn into a full-time podcaster! I do it to get good, factual, solid content on estate and elder law – and you know what? I know people listen because people (family, friends, clients, professionals, etc.) will mention to me, “Oh I liked the episode on XYZ!”

I say ALL of that to say – I have no idea if most of my listeners are in their 20s and 30s … or above 50 …. or mostly female … or mostly male … you get my point! So, when I say David Bowie (or really any time I do this celebrity estate planning type of episode on someone from back in the day), I have no idea if my listeners know who these people are. So, that’s why I always do a little bit about the person –not only to maybe drop some fun facts about the person, but also for anyone that may not know the person, they’ll now know! All of that to be said, let’s talk about David Bowie first, as a person, before we talk about what happened following his passing estate—wise!

First and foremost, according to his Wikipedia page, did you know David Bowie is not really his legal name – his real name is David Robert Jones. There’s your fun fact for the day! Now, for those that don’t know who David is, he did a little bit of everything – singer, songwriter, musician, and actor. Hailing from London, England, his musical interest really began in the 1960s – like, at the age of 15, he started his first band called the Konrads (with a K). After the Konrads, he joined another band called the King Bees. He was soon introduced to someone that helped him with his very first single called Liza Jane – but it was not successful. He then joined yet another band; this time called the Manish Boys, but again, he didn’t stay long because he dropped Manish Boys and joined the Lower Third. His then-manager helped him secure a contract with Pye Records,  and it was about this time, that he started going by David Bowie! He released a new single that … again flopped. Poor guy!

Now, to help expedite time, he jumped around some more – until 1969 which is when he got his first big hit! That’s when his famous song, Space Oddity, got released and it landed in the top 5 in the United Kingdom. This same year, he met his first wife, Angela Barnett, and not long later, they married in 1970. They were married for ten years (so they got divorced in 1980). Of their marriage, they did have a child, Duncan, who was born in 1971.

So, really from the 1960s through the very early 1980s, David put out a lot of “big” hits and became INCREDIBLY well-known for his talents. In a Rolling Stone article, they said, “Selecting David Bowie’s single greatest song is no easy task. Between 1969 and 1983, the man churred out brilliant music as a furious pace.” You know what’s kind of funny about that … I was going to name drop his like TOP songs. I compared a “ranked list” from Rolling Stones, to one from Billboard, to one from Mojo, … and they all listed different songs in different orders … and honestly, that probably perfectly shows how incredibly talented David was. So, what I’m going to say is just check out his music! And not only his music, but he also was in a ton of movies too – so check those out too!

While in his early 40s, David met Iman in 1990 while in Los Angeles on tour and they later married in 1992. Of their marriage, they had a child, so that would be David’s second child, named Alexandria and she was born in 2000. They remained married until David’s death in 2016 – unfortunately, David passed away in January 2016 from liver cancer. According to his Wikipedia page, he was diagnosed with it 18 months prior to his death, but kept the diagnosis private. So, following his passing, an estate plan was indeed located – and what happened estate-wise went a little something like this…

David had created a Last Will and Testament that was executed in 2004. It was about twenty pages in length – which seems, to me, very short and brief for someone that reportedly left an estate of around $100 Million Dollars, but I digress. One of the stinky parts of having just a Last Will and Testament at death is that the administration of the assets according to the Will is taken care of through a public court process called probate. According to the Law Office of Manish C. Bhatia, who is an estate planning attorney in Evanston, Illinois who wrote a blog on David Bowie’s estate, David’s Will was filed in the Surrogate’s Court in Manhattan, New York on January 29, 2016. So, like I said, since probate is a public process, we know detail-for-detail (fortunately or unfortunately, I’m not sure!) what he had spelled out in his Will, so lets talk about it!

First, David left a few very specific gifts – in my little lawyer world, they’re called specific bequests. They are things that are really specific that you want to have happen. David had a few of these things, which were, according to New York Times:

1.     He left $1 Million Dollars to his child’s nanny, Marion Skene

2.     He left $2 Million Dollars to his long-time friend and assistant, Corinne Schwab (who is known as Coco);

3.     He also left Corinne (or Coco) his stock in a company called Opossum, Inc. (Funny thing about this – I actually google’d to see what Opossum Inc. was and found an article on that said there’s a theory that this mystery company was David giving everyone a last laugh – They say, “The company has zero public disclosure, doesn’t trade stock on any market, and there is no information to be found on it anywhere. However, an opossum is a small … marsupial with a propensity to play dead when he doesn’t want to deal with a situation confronting him!” So yeah, that is a little suspicious and I can see why some may think it was David playing a last joke!Back to the specific things, specific bequests…

4.     Finally, he left his penthouse in Manhattan to his wife, Iman.

Now, everything else of his mega-estate was split in a percentage manner (which again, in my lawyer world is often referred to as a residuary distribution – kind of like “whatever is leftover after the specific things is split up like this!”). The percentages were broken down like this:

1.     ½ of this estate, so 50%, went to Iman, his wife;

2.     ¼, or 25%, went to his son, Duncan; and

3.     ¼, or 25%, went to his daughter, Alexandria through what is called a testamentary trust because at the time, she was under the age of 18. It’s reported, all of this is from New York Times by the way, that he also left Alexandria through this testamentary trust his house in Ulster County New York.

A couple last notes – it seems there was no drama or fighting after David passed away because I didn’t see ANY articles mention anything about so-and-so fighting. So huge kudos to the family and to the Executor for keeping things civil. By the way, on that note, David’s Will named two Executors – his business manager, William Zysblat, and a lawyer in London, Paddy Grafton Green. It’s reported that Paddy Grafton Green resigned, leaving William Zysblat as the sole Executor. The second and last thing I wanted to briefly chat about was David’s wishes as it related to the disposal of his body.

So, according to New York Times, David stipulated in his Last Will and Testament that he 1) did NOT want a funeral service and 2) wanted his body shipped to Bali, Indonesia to be cremated there “in accordance with the Buddhist rituals of Bali.” It further stipulated that if cremation in Bali was not able to be accomplished, he wanted at the very least his ashes scattered in Bali. So, according to The Guardian, his body was cremated in New Jersey, but his ashes were indeed spread via a Buddhist ceremony in Bali.

As we start winding this episode up, it’s refreshing to see an estate play out well … play out without drama and fighting … play out exactly as the person (who passed) called for … even as far as his body disposal. It appears things went totally according to David’s plan – and that makes my little estate planning attorney heart so, so happy to see. As we head into the holiday season, remember David Bowie – remember the GIFT he gave to his family of not only leaving an estate plan, but also the GIFT his family ultimately gave to each other … of fulfilling his wishes and doing so without any “trouble in paradise.”

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. Always good stuff on those episodes! Next week, we’re going to talk about a client I recently helped – who is actually young (they’re in their 30s), but sadly, the wife lost her parents when she was younger – and when they passed, they had created, in their estate plan, a trust for their kids, my client included, to protect the inheritance from minor children being a bozo with money. Well, I recently reviewed the trust for her – and I was like, “Well, this would be a good one to talk about on Legal Tea!” So, tune in for that next week, my friends ,and until then, take care and be well! Sources:



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