Why Did the Agent’s Wife Get Wealthy from Marilyn Monroe’s Estate?

by Estate Planning Attorney Nydia Menendez

Marilyn Monroe EstateMarilyn Monroe was an American actress, singer, and model, well known as a global symbol of beauty and glamour.

Marilyn grew up in an orphanage and foster homes because her mother spent most of her adult life in mental institutions and Marilyn did not have a relationship with her father. The actress had a passion for reading poetry, even writing some herself. She loved animals, cooking and children.

Marilyn got divorced three times and did not have children of her own. Sadly, she died at a very young age, only 36 years old, from a drug overdose in August 1962.

With respect to Estate Planning, the actress had only prepared a Will, in which she left money to care for her mother until she died, to her half-sister, who she met when she was 12 years old, and to a poet friend and his wife. But she left the bulk of her estate, valued under $1 million, to her acting coach, Lee Strasberg.

Marilyn was very close to Strasberg and his wife, Paula. They were like the parents she never had, which perhaps is why she wanted them to benefit from her fortune and protect her legacy. But when Lee Strasberg died in 1982, Marilyn’s estate passed to his second wife, Anna, a Venezuelan actress who had never really known Marilyn at all.

Anna eventually hired CMG Worldwide, a licensing firm, to use Marilyn’s image and likeness with hundreds of companies including Coca-Cola and Mercedes Benz, earning millions from it. She also auctioned several personal belongings of the actress, such as the famous dress Marilyn wore to President John F. Kennedy’s birthday party. Approximately 30 years after Marilyn’s death, Anna sold what she still had to a third company for over $20 million.

To this day, Marilyn is a worldwide recognized icon. And more than half a century after her death, her legacy continues generating revenue. Marilyn was listed by Forbes as the number six top-earning deceased celebrity as of 2012, with approximately $15 million. The actress became a multimillion-dollar brand after passing away.

The moral of this story is that because all Marilyn prepared was a Will, she could not impose conditions on the wealth or inheritance she left. This resulted in her legacy ending up in the hands of a stranger who benefited from her image and heirlooms.

Instead of leaving her inheritance outright to her coach Lee Strasberg, Marilyn should have set up a Trust to benefit Strasberg during his lifetime and, after his passing, the remaining wealth could have gone to organizations, charities, or other individuals of her choosing. This would have ensured that Marilyn’s true wishes were realized. But because a Will was the only tool used in her planning, we will never know what she really would have wanted.

How Can You Avoid This?

If you want to learn more about how to plan for your future to make sure you remain in control of your decisions while leaving a lasting legacy for your family, we invite you to call our office at (954) 963-7220 to speak with a member of the Menéndez Law Firm. You may also want to watch the video series on our YouTube channel where we talk about Estate Planning in detail. Or if you want to join us for the next live Wills, Trusts and Estate Planning webinar on Zoom you can register at no charge on our website www.menendezlawfirm.com

Nydia Menedez Nydia Menéndez
Estate Planning Attorney
Menéndez Law Firm
2699 Stirling Road, Suite B200
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33312
Tel.: (954) 963-7220
Fax:  (954) 963-7232
menedez law firm

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