Celebrity Estate Planning - Elizabeth Taylor - Episode 50
Hey there, Legal Tea Listeners! This is your host, Jenny Rozelle. We’re back to “estate planning of the rich and famous” where we chat about celebrities and their estate planning. Today’s episode is on the actress, Elizabeth Taylor! An absolute classic, right? I mean, according to her Wikipedia page, in 1999, the American Film Institute named Elizabeth the seventh-greatest female screen legend of classic Hollywood cinema. So yeah, if you’re a young Legal Tea Listener and have never heard of Elizabeth Taylor, well, you probably should, but if not, she’s a very well-known individual. As always, let’s talk a little about Elizabeth as a person first – her significant others, her family, her career, etc. – before we dive into what happened estate-wise following her passing.
To kick things off, I’m going to read how Wikipedia describes Elizabeth’s personal life … “Throughout her career, Taylor’s personal life was the subject of constant media attention. She was married eight times to seven men, converted to Judaism, endured several serious illnesses, and led a jet set lifestyle, including assembling one of the most expensive private collections of jewelry in the world.” To cram all of that in her 79 years of life, is quite impressive. Before all of that happened, according to her Wikipedia page, Elizabeth was actually born in London – but she was born a dual-citizen between there and here because both of her parents were originally from Kansas. It wasn’t until 1939, however, when Elizabeth (and her family) moved back to the United States.
It was not long after moving to the US that Elizabeth landed her first acting role and contract – specifically, in 1941. If I tried to sit here and list off her many acting roles, we’d be here all day – but she was in A LOT – really until 1994. Long career! As Wikipedia shares, her last film was The Flintstones (which is kind of funny – that was her last one!) where she played Pearl Slaghoople. Beyond acting, she was also a philanthropist and activist – much of her time was devoted to HIV/AIDS activism work. Additionally, she was in the fragrance and jewelry industry later in life, too, when she collaborated with Elizabeth Arden – together, they launched Passion in 1987 and White Diamonds in 1981. (Side note: I had no idea she had anything to do with those perfumes!) And finally, she founded a jewelry company, too, called House of Taylor. A woman of many talents!
Besides her career, she was a wife and a mom, too. While it gained her some public disapproval, she was married 8 times to 7 men. Her second marriage was to a gentleman by the name of Michael Wilding, and together they had 2 children. Two boys – Michael and Christopher. Elizabeth and Michael (her husband, not her son!) ended up divorcing. The same year as their divorce finalized (actually one month later), she married her third husband, Mike Todd, and they had one child, a girl named Elizabeth (“Liza”). You know, because we don’t have enough Michaels and Mikes going around, let’s add another Elizabeth to the mix! Tragically, Mike Todd was killed in a plane crash, which left Elizabeth single again. We’re going to skip husband #4, and go to #5, who was Richard Burton.
I’m sure you picked up on me saying “married 8 times, 7 men” – well, Richard Burton is who she married 2x. Anyway, very shortly after Elizabeth’s divorce to husband #4, she married Richard, who ended up adopting Liza and a little girl named Maria, who Elizabeth was adopted while she was married to husband #4. Elizabeth and Richard ended up divorcing 2x (back-to-back) and then we’re going to skip to husband #7, Larry Fortensky. While they, too, ended up divorcing, they remained very close and good friends – and actually she left him something in her estate plan. This seems like an excellent time to shift to her estate plan then, right?!
According to her Wikipedia page, as many know about Elizabeth, she suffered through many health situation – including scoliosis, a broken back (that went undetected for a number of years), pneumonia (that nearly killed her), a benign brain tumor (which was surgically removed), skin cancer, congestive heart failure, and even suffered from alcohol and prescription pain killers addictions (which wreaked havoc on her body). Eventually, her body wore out and she passed away on March 23, 2011 at the age of 79. So, after she passed away, an estate plan was found – I repeat, Elizabeth Taylor had an estate plan!
According to an article on LiveAbout.com by Julie Garber, Elizabeth had created a Revocable Living Trust to manage her assets following her passing. A good ol’ Revocable Living Trust. We talk about them a lot on here on Legal Tea. They’re solid estate planning tools to ensure an estate cleanly stays out of probate, so things remain fairly private at someone’s passing – that is, we’re not going through a probate process (which is rather long time-wise and can get rather expensive). So, since probate is not necessary, you may be wondering, “Well then how do we know what Elizabeth’s Trust said?” That is because one of her beneficiaries spilled the tea – hey, spilled some LEGAL TEA!
That beneficiary? Well, it was ol’ husband #7, Larry Fortensky. Like I said earlier, while they ended up divorcing, they did remain friends – so I suppose I’m not too surprised she still provided for him in her estate plan. Anyway, Larry shared in an interview with London’s Daily Mail that Elizabeth left him $825,000 out of her estate. Though, the beautiful thing about Elizabeth’s estate plan is that is ALL we know – no one else in her Trust, like in terms of beneficiaries, blabbed and gave any information. So, while Larry spilled some tea, he really on spilled a couple drops – not a whole lot was spilled. Which, in my opinion, is perfect – that is how Trusts are supposed to work, my friends. Nice and private!
According to Bloomberg Business (which is cited in Julie Garber’s LiveAbout.com article), Elizabeth’s Estate was said to be worth between $600 million dollars to $1 billion dollars. That’s a lot of money – especially given “when” she was working and accumulating much of her wealth! Actually, speaking of that, according to a CBS News article, a Bloomberg Businessweek Senior Editor Diane Brady, discussed Elizabeth’s wealth – and really, how Elizabeth ended up with this amount of wealth. Diane shared, “This [speaking of Elizabeth] was an entrepreneur. So it wasn’t just in actress who amassed a fortune. She was one of the first people out there basically branding her personality.” She continued, “But the perfume business was where she made a lot of her money – even last year, $77 million in sales. A lot of that was White Diamonds (the perfume) … She was somebody who understood the power of her celebrity and started leveraging it more than 20 years ago.” That was written in 2011 – so just FYI.
Something else that really caused her estate worth to skyrocket was her, what we call in my little estate world, tangible personal property. What is it, you ask? It’s things that may or may not have a title – things like, jewelry, antique, vehicles, artwork, guns, etc. etc. Well, Elizabeth had quite the collection of tangible personal property. She was super well-known for her jewelry collection – actually, according to her Wikipedia page, she owned the 33.19 carat “Krupp Diamond” (also called the “Elizabeth Taylor Diamond”) … the 69.42 carat “Taylor-Burton Diamond” … and the 50 carat La Peregrina (Pear-a-green-a) Pearl. Like, those are big pieces of jewelry. Anyway, according to an article on Grunge.com by Wendy Mead and Matt Reigle, prior to her passing, Elizabeth had pre-arranged to have some of her tangible personal property items sold via Christie’s Auction.
In December of 2011, the same year Elizabeth passed away, the auction occurred and it brough in a whopping $156.8 million dollars, according to Mead and Reigle’s article. Beyond the 2011 auction, another auction occurred much more recently in 2019, when Elizabeth’s fashion collection was auctioned off. The proceeds went into her Revocable Living Trust and was privately administered from there – as we already discussed. Though, one article referenced that supposedly, a good chunk of the profits went to charity – specifically, to an organization that was very near and dear to Elizabeth’s heart, the American Foundation for AIDS Research. While it’s rather speculative, it seems like it wouldn’t be out of the question since she supported and advocated for that community during her life.
Speculative – that’s a perfect word to round off talking about Elizabeth’s substantive estate plan because much of it is…indeed, speculative. We know about Larry getting $825,000 because he spilled the beans; we know about the auction for personal property; but beyond that, a whole lot of nothing. Did the Trust go to her kids … what about grandkids … what about other/more charitable organizations … and you didn’t hear anything about the IRS kicking up a fuss, so that tells me that even tax-wise, things went nice and smoothly. Beautifully done, Ms. Elizabeth Taylor. So what can we learn from you?
Well, I feel like a little bit of a broken record – but first, for all those that have NOT done estate plan, do it. Get it done. Stop making excuses. You do not know when it’s your time. And when you do go to #DoYourEstatePlan, do it well and do it right. That way, things aren’t going sideways – causing people to be confused, hurt, or even mad. Clearly, Elizabeth did a good job … well, for starters, she actually did an estate plan, but beyond that, she did a good one involving a Revocable Living Trust that allowed her estate to cleanly and easily bypass probate all while keeping her personal affairs from being blasted all over the news. There’s a reason we don’t know where all her money went – it’s because she had a solid estate plan. And beyond that, you know what that also tells me? She worked with a good estate planning attorney. Kudos all around!
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. So yeah, tune in for that next Tuesday, Legal Tea Listeners! Until then, take care and be well!