The internationally-acclaimed singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse passed away in July of 2011, leaving behind a rather large estate and no will.  Even though Winehouse was British, the probate rules for the U.K. and the U.S. are quite similar.  So, what became of the Amy Winehouse estate is indicative of what would have happened here in California.

According to probate law, when a person dies without a will, it is up to the courts to determine how to distribute his or her assets.  One of the first things to be done is to get an accurate accounting of the estate.  Once taxes had been deducted, Amy Winehouse’s estate was worth about $4.6 million U.S.  This amount was awarded in its entirety to her parents.

Any probate attorney can tell you that throughout the U.S., as well as in the U.K., the estate of someone without a will is dispersed to his or her nearest relatives.  First choice would generally be a spouse and/or living children.  Amy Winehouse was unmarried and had no children.  As in the U.S., this means that the nearest relatives would be her parents.

Passing away without a will is called dying “intestate,” and it’s not uncommon at all.  It’s why the Orange County probate courts are continually busy.  An unwed, childless decedent whose parents are not living will typically have the estate given in equal parts to any siblings.  The probate laws are set up to determine yet more relationships if these are not fulfilled.  Ultimately, if no relatives are found, the estate will often revert to the state of California.

 What Were Amy Winehouse’s Wishes?

Since she died intestate, there are no legal documents that outline Winehouse’s wishes for her estate.  It’s possible that she may have wished for money or other assets to go to her friends, her brother, or certain business associates; but these types of possibilities are not likely to be entertained by the probate court.  Instead, they followed the laid-out guidelines for this particular scenario.

The Lesson

The example of Amy Winehouse’s estate highlights the importance for each of us to take the time to consider at least the basics of estate planning.  Creating a will, for example, allows you to determine who will be the beneficiaries of your assets, although it will not circumvent the probate process altogether.  For an estate the size of Amy Winehouse’s an Orange County estate planning attorney would likely work with the individual to put together trusts that meet his or her wishes while decreasing the amount of taxes due and keeping the entire estate out of probate court.  Don’t be fooled into thinking that only rich people set up trusts, either; anyone wishing to avoid the probate process should consider them as a valuable tool.