Celebrity Estate Planning - Farrah Fawcett - Episode 47
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 Farrah Fawcett – like I said at the end of our last episode (when I do a quick hint at what the next episode will be about), I’m not sure what is better with Farrah. Her acting or her hair?! That’s a tough analysis! As always, let’s talk a little about Farrah as a person first – her significant others, her family, her career, etc. – before we dive into what happened estate-wise following her passing.
According to her Wikipedia page, Farrah, an actress and model, really began her career in the 1960s when she appeared in some commercials and a few roles in television. Though, she really gained attention as a model – there was a poster where she appeared in a red swimsuit and it sold 6 million copies in the FIRST year of print. She looked beautiful in the poster! After that, she gained more attention when she starred in the show, Charlies Angels, as Jill Munroe, which was the private investigator. That’s what really put her on the map as an actress, while the poster was really what put her on the map as a model. Thereafter, she starred in a variety of other movies – such as The Burning Bed, Small Sacrifices, and The Apostle.
Personally-speaking, Farrah married Lee Majors, an actor himself, in 1973, but they ended up divorcing in 1982. Their divorce was finalized in 1982, but according to her Wikipedia page, they were separated before that in 1979. Around the same time, she met Ryan O’Neal, an actor, and ended up having a child with Ryan – the child’s name is Redmond Fawcett O’Neal. Farrah and Ryan’s relationship was up-and-down to say the least – they briefly broke up in 1997, but ended up rekindling in 2001 and ultimately were together until Farrah’s passing in 2009. Interestingly, during one of their breaks, Farrah dated Greg Lott, who was a football standout at University of Texas. After Farrah passed, Greg shared that “they had a loving, consensual, one-on-one relationship until she died.” He claimed that Ryan kept him from seeing Farrah in her final days – and that their relationship (Ryan and Farrah’s, that is) was more for Hollywood (more than anything).
When we get into Farrah’s estate plan, keep Ryan and Greg’s names in mind, okay?
In 2006, Farrah was unfortunately diagnosed with anal cancer – immediately, she began treatment and four months later, it was reported that Farrah was cancer-free. Tragically, in 2007, the cancer came back and had spread to her liver. She sought treatment again, but tragically a couple years later, on June 25, 2009, Farrah passed away at the age of 62. A little strange fact – her death was, sort of, overshadowed by Michael Jackson’s passing because he died a mere 12 hours after Farrah passed away.
Following her passing, and I sort of hinted at it earlier, an estate plan was found. So yay! Good job, Farrah, you did better than a lot of celebrities we talk about on Legal Tea. It’s not hard to do better – merely having ANY type of estate plan gets you ahead around here! Anyway, so let’s dive in…
Estate planning-wise, Farrah had a Living Trust, according to a LiveAbout.com article by Julie Garber, and her Trust had very, very specific instructions, which is one good thing about trust planning, by the way. Interestingly, as the article discusses, most of the time trust planning results in the estate administration being quite private; however, a copy of the trust was somehow obtained by RadarOnline.com. I’m sure we can come up with some juicy theories about how they obtained it – but they’d be merely theories not factual, so let’s not do that!
We’re going to start with what her Trust said in way of, what are called, specific bequests. Specific bequests are things that come off the top – that are very specific in nature. Like, in my estate plan, I have a small monetary gift going to the Ohio Basset Hound Rescue Organization, which is where we got our silly basset hounds from. So shout out to them. Anyway, that is an example of a specific bequest – that it comes off the top and it’s something super specific. Farrah had some specific bequests. According to the Garber’s LiveAbout.com article, the specific bequests were:
All of her personal property items like jewelry, clothing, furniture, EXCEPT her artwork – were to go to her nephew, Greg Walls.
Greg Walls also received a monetary gift of $500,000.
Greg Lott, the University of Texas boyfriend that made the claim about Ryan O’Neal not letting Farrah see him before she passed – well, GREG received a monetary gift of $100,000.
Farrah’s father was still living at her passing and she left him a monetary gift of $500,000 to be held in a trust for his benefit.
Farrah’s son, Redmond, who had been in A LOT of legal trouble both before Farrah’s passing and after her passing, received a monetary gift of $4.5 million dollars. Farrah did a smart thing and left his gift in trust for his benefit. She put her friend and producer, Richard Francis, as the Trustee – basically so he’s not in control of his inheritance. Richard, according to the Trust terms, is “authorized to make distributions of trust INTEREST to Redmond at least four times a year and up to once a month – but only from interest earned by the Trust, not the $4.5 million principal balance.” Richard, as Trustee, can only dip into that principal if it’s “necessary for health care purposes.” All of that according to Garber’s LiveAbout.com article, by the way. Good stuff.
When you do specific bequests like this, you still have something called a “residuary beneficiary” or “residuary distribution” article to basically be the catch-all for anything that is remaining AFTER the specific bequests are fulfilled. In Farrah’s Trust, her residuary beneficiary was the Farrah Fawcett Foundation. Farrah founded the Foundation in 2007 and it was founded to provide monetary support for cancer research and prevention. It has a specific emphasis on anal and pediatric cancers.
Soooooo, notice that I never said Ryan O’Neal, her on-again, off-again boyfriend; the one that she supposedly had a very up-and-down relationship with. Interesttttttting, right, that she never left him anything?! Well, hold tight because the biggest controversary in Farrah’s estate case had to do with her artwork. And THAT involved Ryan…
In her Trust, she stated that all of her artwork was to go to the University of Texas. In 2011, a lawsuit broke out when the University sued Ryan claiming that he stole a piece of art of Farrah done by none other than the great Andy Warhol. According to Garber’s LiveAbout piece, the artwork was said to be worth around $12 million dollars. Another article by ABC News said the artwork could be worth up to $30 million dollars actually. The University claimed that the piece of art went missing from Farrah’s residence after her passing. According to the ABC News article, Ryan, as his defense against this claim, said that Warhol made TWO pieces of art and even though Farrah said for all of her artwork to go the University, that Farrah had given one of the pieces to him before she passed to give to their son, Redmond.
Ol’ Greg Lott resurfaced still shouting from the rooftops that what he and Farrah had was real; and that Ryan prevented him from seeing Farrah in her final days; etc. He came to the defense of the University, of course, and basically was saying that Ryan was lying, he was a fraud, and used Farrah, etc. etc. Ryan’s attorney “shot back” and said that Greg was a convicted felon and was trying to make a profit off of the prior relationship he had with Farrah. What a dramatic mess!
Well anyway back to the lawsuit against Ryan by the University of Texas, the jury in the case ultimately sided in favor of Ryan. According to a CNN article by Ann O’Neill, many of the jurors found Ryan’s testimony to be credible and believable – and while the decision by the jury was not unanimous, it didn’t have to be. Ryan won and was able to keep the piece of art.
Beyond the little snafu with the Warhol artwork, everything else went pretty smoothly estate-wise following Farrah’s passing. For that, I think we can learn a few things from her estate planning…
First, I love how specific and custom Farrah was in her estate plan. I often tell clients that their plan is THEIR plan – and they can do whatever they want with it. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with doing something very general and basic like everything to my spouse and then everything to my kids. That’s FINE. But hey, what if you wanted to do some charitable giving; or give to your grandkids; or provide a specific distribution for beneficiaries who have some issues going on (like Farrah’s son) that will SUPPORT them, but not HURT them; or even a distribution pattern for young kiddos (like they get X amount at 25, Y amount at 30, and Z at 35). The beautiful thing about working with someone like me – who only does this type of estate and elder law work – is that we can make about anything happen estate-wise. You tell us what you want, we can get it drafted in the legalese!
Second, so another thing we can learn from Farrah, is like I said, taking special care of her child. Redmond, who had experienced several legal troubles, probably would not have been super smart with that $4.5 million he received. Instead of Farrah saying “I won’t give anything to him” or saying “I’ll give it to him and whatever he does with it, is on him” – she wisely had a plan created to 1) put someone else in charge of his inheritance and 2) gave that person in charge specific instructions on when money can/should come out. Beautifully done, Farrah! I do this type of stuff quite frequently for “normal people” clients – after all, unique issues to overcome are not just prevalent with the rich and famous…
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 (you know, not celebrity-level cases) that I, or my office, has personally worked on. During that episode, we’re going to be talking about making someone (like a child, for example) a joint owner on your bank account and rely on them to “do the right thing” and give it to your other beneficiaries when you pass away. Trust me, there are A LOT of pitfalls in doing this. So yeah, tune in for that next Tuesday, Legal Tea Listeners! Until then, take care and be well!