In honor of Jimi Hendrix’s 70th birthday, one of our Attorneys, Maureen Duffy, wrote up an interesting piece on the woes of Jimi Hendrix estate and how they could have been avoided. Enjoy and Happy Birthday, Jimi!
If somebody was surprised when Jimi Hendrix died at the age of 27 on September 18, 1970, it wasn’t Jimi Hendrix. He lived a turbulent life and was well-aware of his own mortality. For instance, in an interview he gave a little more than a year before he died, Jimi was already talking about his funeral, “I tell you when I die, I’m not going to have a funeral . . . I’m going to have a jam session. And, knowing me, I’ll probably get busted at my own funeral.” Gent, Jimi Hendrix, Rock Star is Dead in London at 27, The New York Times(September 19, 1970). Nevertheless, Jimi did not bother to make a will before he passed away.
Jimi made a lot of mistakes in his life, but his failure to plan his estate was a mistake that continues to hurt his family more than forty years after his death. Even though Jimi probably knew his days were numbered, he could not have imagined the way his estate would increase in value after he died. When Jimi died without a will, leaving no children, his entire estate passed to his father, Al Hendrix. When Al died in 2002, his interests in Jimi’s music were worth more than 80 million dollars. Al left control of his interest in Jimi’s music to Al’s adopted daughter, Janie Hendrix. Al’s will also created trusts for other Hendrix family members, with Janie as trustee. However, it left nothing to Jimi’s brother, Leon Hendrix, except for a gold record. Alexander,Judge Settles Long Feud Over Jimi Hendrix’s Estate, The New York Times (September 25, 2004). Leon sued Janie “contending that she illegally persuaded Al Hendrix to leave Leon Hendrix out of his will.” Kershaw, Rock Idol’s Legacy Devolves Into Family Feud, The New York Times (July 23, 2003). Janie eventually won this lawsuit.
There’s no way to tell how Jimi Hendrix would have wanted his estate to pass, since he didn’t leave a will. However, it is ironic that control of his musical legacy eventually passed to an adopted stepsister who was very young when Jimi died, rather than to his brother Leon with whom he had grown up. On the other hand, Jimi may not have wanted his brother Leon to have control of his musical legacy. Leon was a well-known drug abuser, and Janie Hendrix has alleged that Jim wrote the song, “It’s Too Bad” about Leon. Alexander, supra. “It’s Too Bad” contains the lyrics: “I said brother / Don’t tell me you come around here to hustle like the rest of the people do.” Finally, it’s unlikely that Jimi would have wanted his estate to be diminished by estate taxes when planning was available that could have reduced these taxes substantially.
If Jimi had been creating an estate plan today, there are many sophisticated strategies he could have used that were not available in 1970. However, at the very least, Jimi should have had a will that either created a testamentary trust, or even better, that poured-over into a separate trust. He should have appointed a corporate fiduciary as trustee to manage the trust assets efficiently and to serve as a neutral third party in dealing with fractious family members. The trust could have provided life estates for Jimi’s father and his siblings, thereby avoiding estate taxes at the termination of each of these generations. The generation-skipping tax did not exist when Jimi died, so he could have stretched the trusts at least until the end of the rule against perpetuities period, providing life estates for each succeeding generation until twenty-one years after the death of his youngest niece or nephew living at the time of his death. Jimi could also have provided more restrictive distribution terms for Leon’s share to protect Leon’s inheritance from Leon and Leon’s creditors.