Kurt Cobain and the perils of Intestacy

When Kurt Cobain, front man of Nirvana, died following a shotgun blast to his head, at age 27, he left behind a Widow and small child but no Will.

A Will would have named an executor who could exercise control over his estate, however the laws of intestacy meant that Cobain’s widow, Courtney Love, with a well documented history of mental health problems and well publicized struggles with addiction, gained the right to manage his estate including rights to his image, publishing and licensing rights, and performance royalties.

It has been reported that Cobain contacted a lawyer before he died to draft a Will excluding Love as he was contemplating divorcing her, as a Will wasn’t drafted the distribution and management of his estate was exposed to difficulties.

In 1997, Love and former Nirvana members, Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic, formed a company to manage all Nirvana-related projects.  Love later commenced proceedings to have the company wound up alleging that she had received bad advice when signing the deal. Grohl and Novoselic, sought Love’s removal from the Company on the grounds that she lacked the capacity to run it properly, and sought a court ordered psychiatric examination of her. The matter was finally settled in 2002.

This didn’t stop Love from bringing further lawsuits alleging that the managers of Cobain‘s estate had stolen $30 million in cash and $500 million in real estate holdings. When the lawsuit fizzled out she accused her lawyer of being bought off by those who she alleged committed the fraud.

In 2009, Cobain’s daughter Frances went to court for a restraining order against her mother.  Love lost custody of her daughter as well as control of a trust fund that had been set up through Kurt Cobain’s estate for Frances’ benefit. Frances reportedly inherited 37% of her father’s estate when she turned 18, and is still estranged from Love.

Love says the legal action cost her $27 million, and she ended up selling her 25% share of Nirvana’s publishing rights in 2006, for $50 million, and control of Cobain’s image and licensing rights, in exchange for a further loan in 2009.  The Estate is worth has an estimated $450 million with Cobain’s image, publicity rights, and songs producing valuable income stream for Love and Frances Cobain.

The important lesson from this unfortunate series of events is that in not having a Will Kurt Cobain was unable to protect his family and legacy. Although we have discussed some high profile intestacies, your legacy and estate are important to your loved ones so in order to reduce the difficulty your family members will face when you die it’s important to plan for your financial future and make and regularly update a Will.

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