Jim Morrison | Who Inherited His Estate?
In May 1968, I attend a Doors concert at the Santa Clara Fairgrounds. It is the third time I see The Doors. Jim Morrison is going downhill. Between songs he sites on the Santa Clara stage with a Jack Daniel’s bottle by his side.
Unfortunately, Morrison’s self-destructive behavior led to a premature death three years later at the age of 27 from what may have been a heroin overdose. Even today, there is no definitive cause of death listed for him – some believe it could have been congestive heart failure or a heart attack.
Either way, when he died, his net worth was a relatively modest $400,000. He was unmarried but had a common law wife named Pamela Courson, and in his will, he left everything to her.
As was typical of rock stars of the day, Morrison and his bandmates were reckless in relationships, and shortly after he died, several women challenged Morrison’s will in probate court, claiming he was the father of their children. Long before DNA tests could prove paternity, it was up to the court to decide if the claims were credible.
In 1974, three years after Morrison died, a probate court rejected the other claims and did finally recognize Courson as the heir to Morrison’s estate. Ironically, only a few weeks later, Courson herself died of a heroin overdose.
Meanwhile, the one-quarter share of the Doors royalty income increased dramatically after Morrison’s death, and within a couple of years, it became a significant number. The stakes were raised. By law, because Courson had no children and she herself left no will, Courson’s parents inherited her rights to Morrison’s estate, now worth millions.
Not so fast, argued Morrison’s parents. Although they were estranged from their son at the time of his death and were not named in his will, they believed that they had as much right to their son’s legacy and estate as the parents of his common-law wife.
The dispute between the parents lasted for several more years. By 1980, the litigation between the two families was settled out of court with an agreement that each would split the royalties of Morrison’s share of the Doors music catalog 50-50. Because Morrison and The Doors became much more popular in the years following, the value of that royalty stream is reported to have been more than $80 million.
The lessons from all these probate cases are clear. Having an estate plan and creating a will with clear-cut intention helps avoid future potential problems.
It’s worth noting that if Jim Morrison and the Doors had faded into obscurity, and the value of their intellectual property had gone to zero, it’s safe to say that no one would have cared. But when millions of dollars were suddenly at stake, litigation almost became inevitable.
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