Image Credit: Sayom Shakib
Celebrities are not immune when it comes to estate fights - John Lennon, the world-famous musician and member of The Beatles, is a classic example. John left the Beatles, and he also left his first marriage and his son from the marriage, Julian Lennon. It's said that Paul McCartney wrote "Hey Jude" in 1968 to cheer up Julian, then five, during his parents' divorce. McCartney described it in part as a message of "I know you're not happy, but it'll be OK."
Just 12 years later, John Lennon was gunned down, and Lennon's family members were not OK - particularly Julian. Lennon made no provision in his will for him. There was an arrangement at the time of Lennon's divorce that set up a trust fund for Julian that was to pay him 50,000 pounds when he reached age 25. Other than that, Julian could truly imagine no possessions (at least none coming from his father's 220 Million pound estate).
Whether from the poor drafting of his legal documents or perhaps intentional neglect on his part, the result was that John Lennon's estate slogged through a 16-year legal battle with his son, Julian.
The Lennon case certainly looks like the quintessential example of a widowed stepmother who worked hard to cut off and alienate children from a previous marriage.
The uneasy relationship between stepmother Yoko and stepson Julian is well documented, but most people don't realize that the bitterness started well before Lennon died. Ono was Lennon's gatekeeper, and there were many people who suggested that she unduly influenced her husband to favor his second son, Sean, who was borne by Yoko Ono. Julian Lennon's attorneys raised that very issue and filed a lawsuit on Julian's behalf against his father's estate. Terms of the settlement reached 16 years later between Yoko Ono and Julian Lennon were never made public, but Julian reportedly received 20 million pounds to drop his claims.
The Julian Lennon case should serve as a warning to heirs and beneficiaries: challenging a will or trust is never easy and may take many years to resolve.
Should Sean Lennon and Julian Lennon have received the same inheritance? Was the settlement fair? The answers to those questions are unknowable. In cases like these, a client must make a highly calculated cost-benefit analysis. 16 years is a long time to fight for an inheritance, but there's nothing to say that the fight couldn't have gone on for another 10 years. There were no winners.
In 1998, two years after settling his case with Yoko Ono, Julian Lennon had this to say about his famous father:
The tragedy in this case isn't that Julian received so little money from his late father; the tragedy is that he received so little love.
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