The Jimi Hendrix Estate

There are some famously bad examples of what can happen to an estate. Celebrities offer some very high profile train wrecks in estate planning (or, in most cases, lack of estate planning). One of the most egregious examples of estate mismanagement that you can find in celebrity estates is that of Jimi Hendrix.

Jimi Hendrix died 40 years ago on September 18th, 1970, yet many portions of his estate are still unsettled and have spawned numerous law suits. Hendrix died without a will and provided no guidance as to what should be done with his multimillion dollar estate. At the time of his death, the possible heirs to his fortune were two children born out of wedlock, his father, his brother, a girlfriend of three years with whom he had been cohabitating, and a second woman who claimed to be his fiancée, and, oddly enough, his stepsister. Legacy.com provides a summary of what happened:

Jimi Hendrix left no will. He fathered two children out of wedlock, but his own father, Al Hendrix, legally denied them any claims on the Hendrix estate, to which he became sole heir. A gardener by trade without any knowledge of the music business, Al Hendrix hired a lawyer who in 1974 sold the rights to Jimi’s music to a Panamanian tax shelter in a deal that would see Al receive a fixed annual annuity. To complicate matters, rights to Hendrix’s likeness were sold to a different company.

Al claimed no knowledge of these transactions, and sued his lawyer and advisor in 1993 to win back rights to Jimi’s music and image. The litigation was bankrolled by billionaire Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen – an avowed Jimi Hendrix fan, true, but also an interested party who hoped to benefit from Al’s cooperation in a $60 million Jimi Hendrix museum he was planning. The two men later had a falling out, and the Hendrix museum morphed into a more encompassing institution called the Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame.

In 1995, a judge returned rights to Jimi’s work back to Al Hendrix’s company, Experience Hendrix LLC. So everyone was happy, right? Well, at least until Al died in 2002. Then it came to light Al had rewritten his will to cut Jimi’s brother Leon out of the trust. Leon – a former drug addict who now plays guitar in a band called The Leon Hendrix Mysterience – then sued his adoptive sister Janie, who he said had pressured Al to write him out of the will and was mishandling Experience Hendrix finances.

Since he filed the lawsuit in 2004, Leon Hendrix, along with 7 of the estate’s 11 other beneficiaries, have won some and lost some. During the trial, it came to light that Janie Hendrix and her cousin had grossly mismanaged the estate. They refused to distribute funds to beneficiaries, but took out no interest loans from the estate, purchased cars and other items with the trust fund money, and even funded a new record company to produce three gospel albums performed by Janie Hendrix’s husband.

During the three month trial between Janie and Leon Hendrix, Janie’s attorney’s brought to light the sordid private life of Leon Hendrix, which, according to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer painted Leon as a “lazy, drug-addled freeloader who was out for money he didn’t deserve and that Al didn’t want to give him.

The sordid details revealed by both sides resulted in a court decision that neither party was happy with. In the end, Leon spent over $3 million only for the court to uphold his disinheritance from his father’s will and Jimi Hendrix’s estate. Janie Hendrix was left in control of the companies that managed the Hendrix assets, but was no longer allowed to manage the trusts that disbursed the income of those companies.

The biggest tragedy of this whole affair, beyond his family spending millions of dollars fighting over something that could have been handled for a few thousand dollars and a decent attorney when he was alive, is summed up by Charles Cross , a Hendrix biographer:

In researching [his] book Cross said he discovered that many of the people who Hendrix was closest to as a child — particularly on his mother’s side of the family — never received a dime in any of Al’s various wills and estate plans through the years. Al had divorced Jimi’s and Leon’s mother, Lucille, in the late 1950s. She died a few years later.

Though the assets involved in the Jimi Hendrix Estate are unique, the family dynamics are all too common. It’s tragic to see any family torn apart by a completely avoidable problem.

Alex