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  • Writer's pictureJenny Rozelle, Host of Legal Tea

Celebrity Estate Planning - Stieg Larsson - Episode 132


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 well-known book’s author…the author of the book, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo … name is Stieg Larsson. Now if you’re a big fan of the book, you already know this – but in case you aren’t or may have forgotten, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was actually the first book of his Millennium series. According to Wikipedia, Stieg intended on having ten books (or ten installments in this Millennium series), but unfortunately, he was only able to complete three (of the ten) due to his unexpected death. The three were: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo published in 2005, The Girl who Played with Fire published in 2006, and The Girl who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest published in 2007. Due to his unexpected death, a couple other authors have stepped up to continue the series, which is kind  of cool. Now, as we always do on these celebrity estate planning episodes, let’s talk a little about Stieg before we get in what happened with his estate.

According to his Wikipedia page, Stieg was born in Sweden and from what I can tell, he lived his entire life in Sweden. On his 12th birthday, his parents gifted him a typewriter. Perhaps that fueled his love for writing, because around 17 years old, Stieg he developed an immense interest in science fiction – both reading and writing. Then, later in his life, according to Britannica Online, in 1977, Stieg started working at a news agency in Sweden, where he worked in the graphic design department --  but later shifted into being a journalist. He worked there for 22 years. Then, really in the 1980s and 1990s, Stieg really took an interest in writing about some of the various political “stuff” going on – like, for example, he did some writing for a British Magazine on investigating and exposing fascism; he did some writing on some extreme right movements happening in Sweden; etc. Then, in 2001, he started actively writing fiction. That appears to be when he started actively working on the Millennium series, that I discussed earlier.

Tragically, in 2004, Stieg died of a heart attack after climbing some stairs. The whole story about him climbing stairs was … kind of sad. So, according to an article on The Guardian, Stieg actually went for an appointment in a building and the lift was broken. So, he decided to walk seven flights of stairs. Once at the top, he began feeling ill and was rushed to the hospital. There, he died. He was only 50 years old. Interestingly, if you were paying close attention, I said he started actively writing the Millennium series books – but interestingly because the timing of his death and where he was with his writing, he had completed three books, but not yet published them. Well, according to Wikipedia, they had been ACCEPTED for publication, but none had been printed. So, the first three books, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl who Played with Fire, and The Girl who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest – were all published after this death. Which is kind of sad, right? That he didn’t get to see how they absolutely TOOK OFF.

So, on to more of a personal note, Stieg was never married, but had a long-time girlfriend/partner, Eva Gabrielsson (Gabe-ree-ul-sun). They were together (and lived together) from 1974 until Stieg’s death in 2004. They did not have any children together. According to a blog by Streeter Law Group, a law firm in California, it was confirmed after Stieg’s death that a Last Will and Testament was discovered. It was dated 1977 – so if you’re connecting the dots, that was certainly before he started writing the Millennium series – that was actually when he started working at the news agency, but he and Eva were already together at that point too. So, that Will said that everything Stieg owned (like assets) were to be distributed to a political party (and according to Wikipedia, it was the now-considered Socialist Party of Sweden). Here’s the thing, though, the Will was never signed by a witness – so according to the blog (and many other sources), his Will was held to be invalid.

Therefore, because Stieg’s Will was held invalid, his estate, which included the rights to his novels, according to Swedish law, was to be distributed to his father and his brother. According to Wikipedia, his mother died when he was very young. So, it sounds like without an estate plan, his estate would be distributed to his closest family members – which, like I said, was his father and brother. Here’s the kicker though: According to the Streeter Law Group’s blog, Stieg was somewhat estranged from both his father and brother. (Of course, after these claims came out, Stieg’s father and brother said they weren’t true.) Eva did come out and say that the estrangement was true. So, who knows. Like I always tell people, usually the truth is somewhere in the middle!

So, after Stieg died and the estate saga began, Eva was surprised, to say the least. The Guardian article that I have referenced on here already is a fascinating read, if you are really interested in his story and case. Eva was interviewed for the article, so it’s interesting to hear her thoughts, perspective, and opinions on things. For example, she shared that while Stieg was alive, he had “told her he was setting up a company in which she would be co-founder, and into which they would pay all the money they earned for books and articles.” Well, she continued by sharing that he said, “There was no need to start dealing with a mass of paperwork like Wills, for example, because we would be equal co-owners of everything and the company statues would stipulate that if one of us died, the other would get everything.”

Unfortunately, after Stieg passed away, according to The Guardian piece, Eva discovered that the company never got set up. Though, in that moment, she shared that while she was devasted, she figured she would still have a claim to Stieg’s estate. And in fact, she crossed paths with Stieg’s father who said he “did not want any part of the estate as well as Stieg’s brother who said, “there must be a way to carry out Stieg’s wishes and set up the company, even after the fact.” Stieg’s father and brother must have had a change of heart (or it may even be a classic game of he-said, she-said … who knows) … because it was shortly after these exchanges that she discovered that Stieg’s estate would be distributed to them.

The apartment home they lived in was jointly owned between Stieg and Eva. Though, even that became a point of contention because Stieg’s half went according to the estate – and was to be distributed to Steig’s father and brother. The house. The house that Eva is living in … to be ½ owned by Stieg’s father and brother. So, according to The Guardian article, she says they offered her their half to Eva – only if she gave them Stieg’s laptop. She declined the offer. Thankfully, in 2007, so about 3 years after Stieg had died, Stieg’s father and brother gave up and “let” Eva have their ½ interest in the house.

Then, later on, in 2009, Stieg’s father and brother said they would settle with Eva for 1.75Million in euros – again, Eva declined their offer. In The Guardian interview, Eva was asked what her and her lawyers are shooting for. Eva said, “It is the same as always. That I would manage the literary legacy for a fee, which would be a percentage that the family themselves could decide or propose … I think after two or three years, my lawyer suggested I would get 20% for managing the literary legacy, and they don’t want that. They could keep 80%. But they want the control – or the businesses around them do, because it gives them maximum freedom.”

Now, The Guardian article was released in 2011. Now, in 2024, that is a long time ago, so I started looking for some sort of update. I can’t believe what I’m about to say – but I couldn’t find ANYTHING to confirm if things were still going on or not. Though, regardless of how things ended in the estate litigation stuff, the lessons and the takeaways are really the same.

First, if you are an unmarried couple or know of an unmarried couple, it’s absolutely critical to get an estate plan together – especially if you share assets and especially if you have desires to 1) have each other make decisions (whether it be health care decisions, financial decisions, or legal decisions) and/or 2) to ensure a clean distribution of assets as you want. I think a lot of people think that a relationship like Stieg and Eva would fit the definition of a common law marriage. Well, whether it does or does not, clearly it did not under Swedish law – but here, in the United States, not every state recognize common law marriages. Some states even don’t recognize common law marriage, but they do grant cohabitating couples some rights – under contract law. So, the surefire way to protect each other is to 1) discuss estate planning, 2) do estate planning, and 3) follow-through on any additional estate planning related actions.

Like, here in Stieg’s case, he shared with Eva that he was going to be starting that company, but he never did. I am sure he did not do it intentionally or maliciously – he probably had the idea in his head and didn’t get around to acting on it. Now, between his lack of estate plan (since his Will was not appropriately signed) and his lack of follow-through about creating the company, it left his long-time partner, Eva, in a world of hurt. Who knows – like I said, the estate saga may still be going on! I’m not sure since I can’t find anywhere that things were ultimately closed and settled. Regardless, even if it did close up and settle finally, there was still unnecessary fighting and delay due to Stieg’s oversight. Such a bummer!

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! So, next week, we’re going to talk about timeshares and specifically, when timeshares intersect with my estate world – sometimes, we deal with them while creating an estate plan and other times, we have to deal with them after someone passes away. So, tune in for that conversation next week. Until then, take care and be well!

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