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  • Writer's pictureJenny Rozelle, Host of Legal Tea

Celebrity Estate Planning - Jimmy Buffett - Episode 126

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 our Margaritaville friend, Jimmy Buffett. So, this episode is for you, Parrotheads! If I was fancy enough to know how to upload music to my podcast recording platform, I’d change it to a Jimmy Buffett song – but as I’ve talked about on here before, I’m the furthest thing from fancy when it comes to my podcast – and it’s not my New Year’s resolution to turn into a fancy podcaster, so we’ll have to deal with my normal music, even though a Buffett song would be far more fun! Anyway, on these episodes, I like to talk a little about the person first, then dive into what happened following the person’s death. So, on that, let’s chat about Jimmy first…

According to his Wikipedia page, Jimmy was born in Mississippi on December 25th, 1946, so a Christmas baby! My husband is a Christmas baby, too. Love that! Anyway, after attending and graduating college, he moved to New Orleans and routinely did street performances along Bourbon Street. That was pretty short-lived because the next year, he ended up moving to Nashville, Tennessee. That’s really when his music career started – like so many, his first attempts at records flopped, but he kept going and ultimately hit it big FIRST Sin 1974 with his first entry into the Top 100 … with the song, “Come Monday.”

THEN, in 1977, his song, “Margaritaville” really, really, REALLY put him on the map. Today, that remains Jimmy’s most popular song – and is played all the time everywhere. There are Margaritaville-themed restaurants, cruises, casinos, bars, video games, a retirement communities (in Daytona Beach, if you’re interested, and it’s called Latitude Margaritaville; and also two newer communities in Hilton Head, South Carolina, and Panama City Beach, Florida), etc. So, needless to say, his song, “Margaritaville” turned into WAY more … than just a song.

While many know of Jimmy from his music, did you also know he is an author too? He actually wrote “adult” (fiction and non-fiction) books and three made their way to the New York Times Best Seller list. He also wrote a couple children’s books, too. He was also quite charitably inclined – he co-founded Save The Manatee Club; he volunteered his time and talents by playing for U.S. troops and for disaster (like hurricane) relief concerts to bring awareness and encourage monetary assistance; and he also monetarily contributed to a number of organizations, too.

Now, personally-speaking, Jimmy was first-married to a lady named Margie Washichek in 1969 … their marriage lasted a few years, until they divorced in 1972. Soon after the divorce, Jimmy met his eventual second wife, Jane Slagsvol. At the time, Jane was a college student at the University of South Carolina and they met while she was on Spring Break in Key West. They ended up getting married in 1977. Together, Jimmy and Jane had three children, two daughters and one son specifically, named Savannah, Sarah, and Cameron. Savannah was born in 1979, Sarah was born in 1992, and they adopted Cameron in 1994. If you’re wondering why the delay between Savannah and Sarah/Cameron; well, according to his Wikipedia page, they briefly split in the 1980s (not divorce; just split), but ended up reconciling in the early 1990s – which is when Sarah and Cameron ended up joining the family. They remained married and together until Jimmy passed away.

In the Spring of 2023 (in May), Jimmy announced he had to reschedule some tour dates because he had been hospitalized to “address some issues that needed immediate attention.” Things were pretty quiet, until late August 2023, when it was shared that Jimmy had entered hospice care at his home and on September 1, 2023, Jimmy passed away at the age of 76. It was eventually shared that his death was due to “complications from Merkel-cell carcinoma, which is a rare and aggressive skin cancer.” He had been diagnosed with it four years prior to his death; though, according to this Wikipedia page, he kept his diagnosis private and even continued to do his tour while he was being treated.

After his death, it’s no surprise that a business man like Jimmy would have an estate plan. Honestly, since his passing in September, I’ve been keeping an eye out for things relating to his estate – for this podcast. As time passed and there were really no headlines about his estate, I figured he had an estate plan. It’s kind of the classic phrase, “No news is good news.” This exact thing happened in Betty White’s case, actually. I remember when she passed and whether it’s good or bad, I often think of this podcast shortly after learning about a mega celebrity’s passing. Anyway, I kept an eye on Betty White’s estate, too, and there really wasn’t anything major in the headlines after her death – which turns out, she had a solid estate plan, too. I did a Legal Tea episode on her and her estate, if you care to go take a listen – it was a while back. Episode 41. So, if you do, you’ll have to scroll down for a bit. Ha!

So back to Jimmy, I intentionally started digging for some articles and discovered there sure is not a ton out there, but I’ll review what IS out there! According to a New York Times article, Jimmy some type of Trust, whether it was revocable, irrevocable, charitable, etc. – not sure, as part of his estate. It’s called the James W. Buffett 1990 Trust. As the name suggests, Jimmy created his Trust plan in 1990 – as part of that Trust, he had also created a Last Will and Testament, which was, according to the New York Times article, created in 2017. So, sounds like he did some estate work in 1990 AND 2017 – which is common. Estate planning is usually not a one-time-thing, my friends!

So, on this Will, it is commonly and informally referred to in my world as a Pourover Will. Its purpose is two-fold: first, to grab any assets OUT of the Trust and get them poured into the Trust and second, to use as what DOES get filed with the probate court office, in the event that there are assets getting poured over into the Trust. With a Pourover Will, the “beneficiary” of the Will is the Trust. That keeps things private, too, because it doesn’t release “who” the beneficiaries of the Trust are – so in the court filings, it won’t contain WHO are the beneficiaries of the Trust nor the value of any Trust-held assets. That’s why, as the New York Times article states, “But in keeping with Florida law, the Will, filed last month in Palm Beach County Florida, does not contain a public inventory of his assets not does it reveal any of the holdings of the James W. Buffett 1990 Trust.” The article further shares that Jane, his wife, was designated as the one-in-charge of Jimmy’s estate.

Now, when we talk about WHAT is supposedly in Jimmy’s estate, Evans Legacy Law Group, a law firm in Illinois, did a blog on Jimmy’s estate and they shared that the following likely includes the following, among many other things that are probably not expressly noted in this list: “music royalties of $20 Million annually; a collection of houses and cars; 150 Margaritaville restaurants, casinos, cruises,, and related business holdings; a yacht and several planes (by the way, he had his pilot’s license too – did you know that?); stock market investments, including shares in Berkshire Hathaway; and watches and memorabilia.” The blog further shares that Jimmy was “receiving close to $200 Million annually for his shares in Margaritaville Holdings, LLC, and it seems that issues with his health and medical expenses did not affect his business or family legacy. He was still growing his wealth when he died.” Now, that’s a level of wealth that I could only dream of – right?!

What are the big takeaways from Jimmy’s estate planning – well, to me, I think the BIGGEST takeaway is the privacy. I searched and searched and searched for some MORE information about Jimmy’s estate plan details – as in who gets what – and there’s like no information out there. We can assume things (i.e. Jane getting some or all, his kids getting some, etc.) but that would merely be assuming – and I try not to do that here on Legal Tea! That’s the beautiful thing about 1) doing an estate plan and 2) doing a THOROUGH estate plan. Things can remain private, so long as you put the time, money, and energy into good planning. We should have all known that Jimmy Buffett, a heck of a business man, would not have let us down with some bad planning. We should have known Jimmy would have done solid estate planning!

I often hear from my own clients and prospective clients – “Jenny, do we need a Trust? Do we have enough assets for a Trust?” I always answer the same way – First, Trusts are NOT just for the wealthy. I help a lot of clients get Trusts in place (and most of my clients are just everyday people). Instead of how much in assets, I always focus on the GOAL – It depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. For example, are you just trying to get the bare minimum done right now just to get something in place? Maybe a Trust is not needed. Are you trying to avoid probate? Are you trying to provide a specific distribution pattern (i.e. based on age) for beneficiaries? Or, are you trying to gain asset protection? If any of those are a yes, maybe a Trust DOES make sense. It’s very goal-dependent rather than how many assets you have.

So, the other big takeaway is that Jimmy accomplished this level of privacy by utilizing a Living Trust. That’s what the James W. Buffett 1990 Trust was. A Living Trust. So, the big takeaway with this piece, is that with a Trust, you not only have to have the Trust prepared and signed, but there’s a process that happens AFTER you sign the document called funding. The funding of a Trust means you are proactively getting assets into the name of your Trust (as in the Trust will own the asset) or possibly make the Trust the beneficiary. The funding process puts the bow on the top – without the Trust funding, it’s a pile of paper. So, if you have a Trust or if you want a Trust, be sure to get the thing funded. Any solid estate planning attorney can help with that. I promise!

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 be talking about a client that, prior to my office’s involvement with their estate plan, they were probably a bit too trusting with their former professionals in their life – and if it’s NOT that they were a bit too trusting, then it’s just massive mistake on their part AND their professional’s part – and at this point, they’re in operation-clean-up … which is costing time, money, and energy. Kind of hard to explain until I’m able to set things up – so just tune in for that next week, my friends, and until then, take care and be well!


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