Marilyn Monroe –The Estate Planning Hall of Shame

by | Nov 11, 2022 | 360 Wealth

Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes trailer.jpg

Marilyn Monroe is a household name that every American, no matter the age, has heard or mentioned at least once in their lives. For estate planners and their family business clients, Marilyn is not only one of the biggest names to grace the Hollywood Walk of Fame but also has a memorable star in the Estate Planners Hall of Shame.

Hollywood Hall of Fame

A sex symbol for many years, Marilyn graced the covers of dozens of magazines, billboards, advertisements, and every other poster hanging on a teenage person’s bedroom walls. Earlier this year at the Met Gala 2022, Kim Kardashian decided to wear, and others would argue defame, the dress Marilyn wore to serenade the late President John F. Kennedy on his birthday on the 19th of May 1962.  The dress was sold to Ripley’s Believe It or Not for $4.8 million in 2016.

When Kim Kardashian took Marilyn’s dress out for a ride, the public’s opinion was split between glee and horror — some praised the actress for paying homage to the late film goddess, and others were horrified at the blatant disrespect of what should be considered a Hollywood artifact.

Born Norma Jeane Mortenson on June 1, 1926, in California, Marilyn soon became a model, singer, and actress who appeared in over 25 films including classics as Some Like It Hot, The Seven Year Itch, and Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.  By the late 1950s, Marilyn was considered the sex symbol of the era’s sexual revolution. She was so sought-after that she became the top-billed actress for that entire decade. Her movies grossed $200M which is equivalent to around $2B today.

Unfortunately, tragedy struck. Marilyn was only 36 years old at the time of her untimely death. She was found lifeless on August 5, 1962, at her home located in Los Angeles. The official reports stated that it was “probably suicide” due to a drug overdose.

Amount of Money off Her Estate

Just a little over a year before this incident though, Marilyn signed her last will and testament on January 14, 1961. The testament was short, only three pages, and it included only a small number of basic provisions for bequests, with one of them seeming to have unintended consequences that Marilyn might not have approved.

When the will was filed for probate on August 17, 1962, it was contested by Inez Melson, one of Marilyn’s business managers. The will was eventually established as valid and admitted to probate in October of 1962. It included the following provisions:

  • Marilyn Monroe’s birth mother Gladys Baker and Xenia Chekhov, the surviving spouse of Marilyn Monroe’s friend and acting coach, Michael Chekhov, were to be the recipients of a $100,000 trust.
    • Gladys was to receive $5,000 per year for her maintenance and to support her other needs.
    • Xenia was to receive $2,500 per year for the same benefits as Gladys.
  • In the case of both Gladys and Xenia’s deaths, the balance of the trust, should there be any left, was to go to Marilyn’s New York psychiatrist, Dr. Marianne Kris. The money was to be used by the doctor “for the furtherance of the work of such psychiatric institutions or groups as she shall elect.”
  • Bernice Miracle, Marilyn’s half-sister was to receive $10,000.
  • May Reis, Marilyn’s secretary, was to receive $10,000.
  • Norman and Hedda Rosten, close friends of Marilyn, were to each receive $5,000. If both predeceased Marilyn, $5,000 would go to their daughter Patricia Rosten to be used for the child’s education.
  • All of Marilyn’s personal effects and clothing were to go to her mentor and acting coach, Lee Strasberg.

The remaining balance or the residuary estate after these bequests was to be divided among Marilyn’s most trusted circle. May Reis would receive an additional $40,000, Dr. Kris would receive 25% of the remaining balance for her research as stipulated above, and the remaining 75%, the biggest of the entire estate, was to go to Lee Strasberg. A short-sighted decision that would turn into something Marilyn might not have approved of entirely.

Estate Planners Hall of Shame

When Lee Strasberg died in 1982, he left behind a legacy that not many in his field of director and acting coaches had achieved. He developed the Lee Strasberg Method of acting that requires actors to go beyond emotional memory and use a technique called “Substitution” to create and become the characters they are portraying.

His professional relationship with Marilyn had her entrust him with 75% of the remaining balance of her estate. Then Lee Strasberg died in 1982, leaving his 75% interest in the estate to his second wife Anna Strasberg. Unfortunately for Marilyn, she was not able to provide any provisions as to what should happen with that bequest at the time of Lee Strasberg’s death.

Survived by his third wife, all of Lee Strasburg’s shares went to Anna Strasburg who, according to some sources, Marilyn met only once — with others saying Marilyn never met Anna at all. While Marilyn was particularly close with Lee’s second wife, Paula Strasburg, she was not close enough with Anna for the latter to inherit 75% of the film icon’s estate.

The punchline to every estate planner out there when talking about Marilyn’s misplanned estate: A stranger was able to make a fortune from Marilyn’s hard-earned money and legacy, amounting to around $20 to $30M.

Anna Strasberg then proceeded to use this inheritance to sign various licensing deals for publicity rights and merchandise using Marilyn’s image and name. Before that was completely settled, however, Marilyn’s estate remained open for 40 years until 2001 when it was finally admitted to probate.

The New York Surrogate Court declared that the estate was completely settled and authorized the transfer of the remaining assets of the estate to Marilyn Monroe LLC — a Delaware limited liability company founded and managed by none other than Anna Strasberg.

The LLC was eventually acquired in 2010 by Authentic Brands Group and NECA for an estimated $50 million. They then formed The Estate of Marilyn Monroe LLC which continues to generate a significant amount of earnings up until today. Just for reference, $10M was earned by the company in 2020 alone.

The bottom line — estate planning can be pretty complex. It is the art of planning where and to whom you will bequeath your hard-earned money and personal collections after death or when becoming incapacitated and not being capable of making sound decisions.

The overlap of family, businesses, and your wealth and inheritance can make things even more complex. When doing your estate planning, make sure you and your family have a sound and legitimate plan.

About the Author

Heath Goldman serves as the Financial Architect for business owners/real estate entrepreneurs. He helps them save money and create a lasting legacy utilizing a unique six-step planning process. Heath coordinates the collaborative efforts of their five key advisors which includes the CPA, attorney, insurance professional, investment professional as well as their CFO to help with the creation of a customized financial plan. The six-step process helps already affluent business owners or real estate entrepreneurs to reduce or eliminate ordinary income, capital gains and/or estate taxes.