On May 26, 2020, Macau casino tycoon and one of Asia’s richest men, Stanley Ho, passed away at the age of 98. Known as the “King of Gambling”, the self-made billionaire was best known for transforming Macau into one of the world’s biggest gambling destinations. When he retired in 2018, his personal fortune was an estimated US$6.4 billion (S$8.9 billion).
With the wealth he amassed, it is no surprise that there were disputes in the family over his fortune. It famously started in 2009, when Stanley suffered a head injury and had to be hospitalised for seven months. At that time, false media reports claimed that he had actually died. These reports heavily emphasised that he had not revealed his plans to delegate his fortune to the family. And so a long winded inheritance dispute began, lasting a few years and topping media headlines.
With his death, he is survived by three wives, 14 children, 12 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Amongst claims and counter claims of Stanley being coerced to divide his assets a certain way back in 2009, many are wondering how his vast inheritance will be divided among his family now that he has passed.
Disputes over inheritance seem to be universal as many of the world’s rich and famous have been involved in highly publicised family feuds. Check out 10 more below:
When the late cantopop singer Anita Mui Yim-fong passed away from cervical cancer in 2003, she left a will and trust fund called the Karen Trust. The beneficiaries of the trust were her mother, Tam Mei-kam and four of Anita’s nieces and nephews. She also left two properties to her best friend and fashion designer, Eddie Lau. Her assets were estimated to be about HK$100 million (about $18 million).
Despite being provided with HK$70,000 (about $12,000) monthly from the trust fund, Anita’s mother was still unhappy with her daughter’s will. She racked up a legal bill of about HK$6 million (about S$1 million) trying to overturn the validity of her daughter’s will, claiming that Anita was not of sound mind when writing the will. Unfortunately, she lost the legal battle to gain control over Anita’s estate but her allowance from the trust fund was increased to HK$120,000 (about S$21,000).
It seems Anita’s worries about her mother’s frivolous spending habits may not have been completely unfounded, as Tam Mei-kam spent HK$250,000 (about S$45,000) on a lavish party for her 95th birthday in 2019. She had gone to court to ask for extra money to celebrate her birthday and was granted the sum.
After the K-Pop starlet’s tragic passing in 2019, her estranged mother re-appeared at her funeral, and demanded 50 per cent of the singer’s assets, which are an estimated KRW12 billion (S$13 million). The incident sparked outrage amongst fans as Hara’s mother had been absent for most of the singer and and her brother’s lives.
When Hara and her brother Goo Ho In were younger, their mother left the family and cut off contact with them. Their father also hardly spent time with them as he had to work in construction sites all over the country in order to support them financially. The siblings were left in the care of their aunt and grandmother and they shared a close bond. In 2006, their mother gave up her parental rights and custody. When Ho In realised that his mother was trying to claim Hara’s estate after her death, he filed a lawsuit against her.
“I’m upset that the person who’s the reason that Hara had such a hard time is now claiming to be her real mother when Hara’s not even here now. I can’t even stand it when the words ‘I’m Hara’s mom’ come out of her mouth,” he told SBS FunE.
The lawsuit between Hara’s mother and brother is ongoing. This issue has sparked controversy regarding one of South Korea’s laws, where even parents who have not taken care of or lost contact with their children have the right to inherit half of their deceased child’s estate.
Michael Jackson’s family feud over his assets was one that lasted a long, long time. The late King of Pop’s net worth is estimated to be about US$500 million (about S$710 million) at the time of his death and his estate still continues to profit.
It actually began in the 1980s, way before his passing in 2009, when the release of his “Off the Wall” album made him wealthier than the rest of his family. With his success, his father suggested to his brothers to capitalise on it by including Michael in a ‘reunion tour’. This was only the start of his family constantly hounding him for money and Michael constantly trying to evade them.
His brothers were constantly making headlines by having affairs and getting involved in lawsuits. After his passing, the family battle over his battle was one that took over all the media’s attention. Within hours, his mother and sisters were camped out at the estate where he passed, ransacking the house for cash and valuables.
In Michael’s will, it is stated that 40 per cent of his estate was to be held in trust for his three children Prince, Paris, and Blanket. Another 20 per cent would be assigned to charities; the remaining 40 per cent would be used to support his mother. After her death, her share would be reverted to his children.
Over the next two years, the world would see his siblings scramble to get their claim of his wealth. They even went as far as to show up uninvited at the children’s house and hounding them, since the money was set to follow them. At that time, the children were in their teens and all three turned their backs on Michael’s siblings, telling them to get out of their house.
For now, Michael’s inheritance stays with his mother and children while the rest has been distributed as stated in his will.
If you use beauty products, you’ve probably heard of L’Oreal. As the sole inheritor to the beauty behemoth after her father’s death in 1957, Liliane Bettencourt became the company’s principal shareholder.
She remained largely passive in the company’s expansion, allowing her father’s successors to grow the business. At the same time, she donated millions to education, medical research, humanitarian projects, museums and the arts. Her assets amounted to an estimated US$38 billion (S$53 billion).
However in 2007, a lawsuit filed against her by her daughter Francoise Bettencourt Meyers started the very public family feud. Francoise challenged her mother’s competency in handling the company fortune, as Liliane was reportedly showering a photographer 25 years her junior with lavish gifts, including an island in the Seychelles.
The photographer, François-Marie Banier, was eventually convicted with abuse and money laundering in 2015 and sentenced to three years in jail.
Since the lawsuit, mother and daughter became estranged as their spats made headlines on French newspapers. Liliane was outraged by her daughter’s accusations, but medical evaluation found she had dementia and Alzheimer’s disease in 2011. Eventually, a judge ordered for Liliane to be placed under her daughter’s guardianship. Her assets were placed in a trust controlled by her daughter. Francoise had to fight hard to guard her mother’s fortune as Liliane’s medical condition often lead her to be manipulated by staff and people around her.
In 2017, Liliane passed away at the age of 94, leaving her fortune to be managed by her only daughter.
The seven-time Grammy award singer passed away in 2016 of an accidental overdose of the opioid fentanyl at the age of 57. Hours after the news broke, fans around the world mourned his death, taking to social media to express their love for the late singer. In the years leading up to his death, Prince was on a prescription for chronic hip pain and it is believed that he struggled from opioid addiction.
Like most people, Prince probably did not anticipate his death at that age and so when he passed, there was no will. Of course, this led to confusion amongst his heirs and estate administrators. Until today, his assets remain undistributed. His fortune was never entirely confirmed either, with estimates ranging from US$150 million to US$300 million (about $212 million to $424 million). But with all the bills racked up by the bickering lawyers, heirs and consultants, the estate’s worth remains unclear.
Many experts and attorneys are expecting the battle over Prince’s estate to drag on for another decade or so. The moment the musician passed, a total of 45 people stepped out, claiming to be related to him and wanting a piece of his assets. But after some back and forth, his list of official heirs is confirmed to consist of his six siblings, Tyka Nelson, and half siblings Norrine Nelson, Sharon Nelson, John Nelson, Alfred Jackson and Omarr Baker.
The founder of the Beatles, John Lennon passed away in 1980 but legal battles for his estate dragged on for 16 years. At the time of his death, his estate was estimated to be worth 220 million pounds (about S$383 million) which he left almost entirely to his wife Yoko Ono and son, Sean Lennon.
The unhappiness started with Julian Lennon, John’s son from his first marriage. Unhappy with being left out of the will, Julian sued Yoko Ono and he fought a long battle to receive a share of the fortune. Only in 1996 did they finally come to a resolution.
Media reports at that time estimates that Julian received a settlement of 20 million pounds (S$34 million) although he never confirmed it. He did say however, that he felt the amount he received was not fair. But Julian did not want to continue the legal battles against Yoko Ono, who had the wealth of the whole estate behind her.
This was probably a smart choice on Julian’s part, allowing him to save on further legal expenses.
When the former president of South Africa passed away in 2013, his whole family gathered behind closed doors to hear the reading of his will. His estate was estimated to be at US$4.1 million (about S$5 million) which is a rather humble amount, compared to some of the others in this list.
Throughout his lifetime, Nelson married three times and fathered six children. In his will, he left nothing for his ex-wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandel and daughters, but his other children, six step-children and nine of his staff members have a cut of his inheritance. Needless to say, disputes began over who should be the one to control the Mandela legacy and his estate. The family feud started even before Nelson’s death, with family members questioning each others’ authority and rights to his inheritance.
After three years of fighting over his estate, the cheque distribution of his inheritance finally took place in 2016. While that has been settled, power struggles among different branches of the huge family continue.
Branded as a guitar legend, Jimi Hendrix won many prestigious rock music awards in his lifetime. He passed away in 1970, at the young age of 27. His estate is now valued at 130 million pounds (S$226 million) but he left no will behind. Years and years after his death, his family continued to fight over his millions and it was finally resolved in 2015.
When Jimi passed away, his brother, Leon Hendrix was in prison. Since the guitarist did not leave a will, all of his assets went to his father. His father wrote his own will, dividing the estate among his children and grandchildren but left Leon out of the will. Instead, control over the estate went to his father’s adopted daughter, Janie Hendrix.
Leon was understandably unhappy that his brother’s legacy went to Janie, whom he considers an outsider of the family. Leon later became a guitarist as well, gaining considerable fame but Janie constantly sued him whenever he used the Hendrix name and image. In 2015, the ongoing dispute for the rights to Jimi’s image and music between Leon and Janie was finally settled although the final settlement amount was not disclosed.
In 1994, then-26 year old Playboy model Anna Nicole Smith married 89 year old oil tycoon James Howard Marshall, causing a stir amongst the public. However, he passed away a year later and left Anna out of the will.
Feuds over the tycoon’s billion dollar estate continued as Anna Nicole sued his heirs for half of her late husband’s estate. She claimed that he intended to set up a trust to provide for her, since he previously had set a trust up years before for his family. She teamed up with Marshalls’s younger son, Howard III, who had been disinherited to challenge the will. But the initial court ruling established that neither Anna Nicole nor Howard III should receive anything from the estate.
Then in 2006, Anna Nicole filed for bankruptcy in California and the case came to the conclusion that Pierce had purposely tried to keep her away from Marshall’s money, and awarded her US$449 million (about S$634 million). However, the award was later shrank to US$88 million (about $124 million) after Pierce appealed to the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.
This back and forth would continue to drag on until Anna Nicole’s death in 2007. Her daughter from a previous relationship is unfortunately unable to inherit anything from the Marshall estate.
While most families battled over inheritance and monetary assets, the children of baseball legend Ted Williams engaged in a legal battle over his body. Much to the shock of the world, it was announced that Ted’s body was preserved in two parts in a cryonics facility in Scottsdale after his death in 2002.
His head was separated from his body and both parts are kept frozen in liquid nitrogen. This procedure was approved by his son John Henry, daughter Claudia and Ted Williams himself on a note dated more than three years after the baseball star signed a will asking to be cremated.
His eldest daughter, Barbara Joyce Williams Ferrell, fought against the process as she claims her father wanted to be cremated and his ashes to be scattered off the Florida coast. Unfortunately, she did not manage to stop the process and it was eventually agreed that Ted’s head and body continue to rest in the facility. Cyronics is still an imperfect science and no one knows for sure if it will actually work out in the future. Only time will tell.
Text: Tan Gin Yee