The Unfitting Legacy of John Denver

John Denver singer-songwriter, some time actor, activist and humanitarian was killed when his experimental plane, crashed into Monterey Bay, California in October 1997. His estate was worth $19 million. He died without a Will

As Denver died in California, distribution of his intestate estate was subject to California law. Denver was not married at the time of his death therefore his children inherited all community and separate property. Under Californian law songs created during a marriage are considered community property, therefore if he were married the copyright in those songs created during the marriage would go to his spouse.

Denver donated his time to a great many charitable causes. He was a board member of the National Space Institute, the Cousteau Society, and Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). It seems strange that he wouldn’t have provided for these causes at the time of his death , however as he didn’t leave a Will then none of these causes benefited from gifts from his estate.

Denver was a noted environmentalist who had purchased property in Colorado with the intention of preserving it forever as a wildlife sanctuary and open space, however this land has now been sold,  which may not have happened if it had been left with this specific environmental purpose stipulated in a Will.

A California judge appointed Denver’s ex-wife Annie the administrator of the estate. His assets were divided between his 2 Adult children from his marriage to Annie with his 8 year old daughter Jesse Belle from his second marriage having her share placed in trust.

Although Denver did not have a Will he had established trusts worth $7 million each for his mother, father, ex-wife Annie and for each of his 3 children when they were born. Due to their acrimonious divorce he did not set up a trust for his second ex-wife Cassandra. In most cases it is much easier to create a Will than it is to establish a trust, and in Denver’s case it would have saved his family time and money.

The Californian Probate Court took 6 years to finalise Denver’s estate. The Internal Revenue Service argued the value of the estate was understated by $2.5 million, and therefore owed about $1.5 million in back taxes. Similarly the IRS believed Denver’s record label, and management company were worth about twice the value estimated by the estate. These disputes were settled with the estate receiving a $600,000 tax return some years later as the IRS had over estimated the value of the assets and the tax owed.

Many of the problems that Denver’s family had in relation to his estate could have been reduced if he had left a Will. Not only did they have to grieve for the sudden loss of a Father, Brother, and Friend, but they had to deal with the additional costs and stress of intestacy.

16 Replies to “The Unfitting Legacy of John Denver”

  1. Why did he need a will? He was only 53! John Denver was a great guy, don’t try to make him out as someone he was not!

    1. He was a great guy and had great plans to create wilderness areas in his adopted state of Colorado- however by dying without a Will his plans went unfulfilled. A Will allows you to direct how your estate is distributed

    2. Everyone needs a will, even young people. Accidents happen. If you have minor children, and you do not leave a Will, the Courts can appoint anyone to care for them. John Denver was an amazing human being. His death was a great.loss to the world.

    3. A person as young as John was would probably not have thought about a will at the time. I know I didn’t have a will until I was almost 60 years of age. I’m sure he would have left one if he had been a little older and had the time to think about the future of his children. He was taken away too soon. I have cd’s of his music and still love to hear his voice to this day.

  2. I had read the Wall Street Journal about 10 years ago The article was on Bernie Maddoff the man in Palm Beach Florida who ran a scam business with people investing their money with him They listed the top 10 losers John Denver Enterprizes was listed #4 in losing the most money four hundred and twenty nine million dollars

    1. The John Denver Concerts and John Denver Enterprises investments were linked to the companies’ pension funds & those companies were managed by Harold Thau, JD’s friend and business partner. Probably well after his death.

  3. Most artists make poor accountants- and likewise . . . the reverse. John was a artistic dreamer. I’m sure he had every intention to “getting around to it”. . . . very sad he is now gone. Artists need to have pea-counters, as close associates: ones that they can love respect and trust.

  4. Really sad, especially she he liked to fly, someone should have given him better advice. No one wants to admit they’re going to die, but better to have things in place.

  5. John had a voice like crystal clear water…pure & beautiful
    In concerts it was as if he was singing just to you…
    The days of life are precious Spend them wisely
    Hob Richmond VA

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