Jimi Hendrix died, after asphyxiating on his own vomit in September 1970 at the age of 27. He died without a Will, with his estate owing back taxes and other debts and only $20,000 in the bank.
Leo Branton an estate lawyer took control of the estate, providing Hendrix’s father Al a modest income from royalties. In 1974, on Branton’s advice, Al Hendrix signed over Jimi’s rights to a Panamanian company represented by Branton. Soon after, the rights were passed onto two offshore companies – Elber BV, a Dutch company that licensed Hendrix’s recordings to Warner Brothers in the US, and Interlit, in the British Virgin Islands, dealing with Polygram which had distribution rights for all territories outside the US. Leo Branton represented Elber, Interlit, Bella Godiva (who handled the U.S. publishing rights.) and another Hendrix-related company Are You Experienced Ltd run by Alan Douglas.
In 1993 when the US catalogue rights were sold to MCA the Hendrix family was furious, Al believed he continued to hold the rights and had licensed them in a “rental” arrangement. Interestingly Paul Allen the co-founder of Microsoft and a Hendrix fan offered the family his financial support in any lawsuit that they may bring against Branton & Douglas.
The family took Court action against Branton alleging conflict of interest, and breach of trust which (due in no small part to Allen’s involvement) would have been difficult and expensive to defend. Branton settled out of Court for an undisclosed sum. Al Hendrix took control of the copyright on his son’s entire recorded output (including unreleased recordings), music publishing rights, photos, films, videos, and the right to exploit Jimi’s image. Jimi Hendrix’s estate is now valued at around $80m.
Although Jimi Hendrix death was untimely much of the difficulties that his family had would have been minimised had he created a Will. Although the rights to his music and image have become increasingly valuable over time even a simple will would have been better than no will at all.
It is important to plan for your future and to revisit a document like a Will every few years. By doing this as well as making an advanced care directive making your medical wishes known; a power of attorney appointing a trusted friend or family member to make your financial decisions if you are incapacitated you are taking responsibility for your future. Like taking out Life and income protection insurance or increasing your contribution to superannuation – if you don’t make those plans for your future nobody else will.