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Late Beastie Boy’s Will Offers Estate Planning Lessons for New York Public Figures

On May 4, 2012, Adam Yauch lost his battle with cancer at the young age of forty-seven. Sadly, this type of thing is not uncommon in New York, where cancer claims many lives each year. What makes this case more notable than most in an estate planning context is that Adam Yauch lived an alter ego for most of his life, where he was better known as “MCA,” a founding member of the Beastie Boys. The hip-hop trio sold millions of records over the years and amassed a small fortune from record royalties, tour proceeds, and other sources.

Adam Yauch had the foresight to consult an estate planning attorney about drafting a Will. Yauch named his wife, Dechen, as Executor, and the Will was filed in the Manhattan Surrogate’s Court earlier this month. The Will contained many standard provisions about how to distribute Yauch’s assets.

As reported by Deborah L. Jacobs in Forbes.com on August 13, 2012, Part of Beastie Boy Adam Yauch’s Will, Banning Use of Music in Ads, May Not Be Valid, Yauch’s Will differs from most ordinary Wills since it directed that his image or name could not be used for advertisements. Yauch added language by hand to the Will after it was signed to provide: “in no event may my image or name or any music or artistic property created by me be used for advertising purposes.” Celebrities and other public figures may want to prevent others from capitalizing on their fame after they die. Advertising professionals recognize that a public figure’s death often creates a resurgence in public interest surrounding the individual. A recent example is Michael Jackson’s estate which has made millions of dollars by promoting his image and music after his death. However, there are instances where fame can be exploited to the extreme. All else being equal, Yauch’s inclusion of the above provision appears intended to prevent any such behavior.

The problem with the particular provision in Yauch’s Will is that it is handwritten. New York frowns upon handwritten Will provisions because of the view that a handwritten Will provision is more likely to be forged, altered, or otherwise fraudulent. Yauch’s Will is made even more problematic by the fact that the majority of the document is properly typewritten and executed, while the above posthumous advertising provision was added in pen after the execution of the rest of the document. The validity of the handwritten provision may result in Estate Litigation that may prolong the probate of the Will. The estate law in New York provides that handwritten additions to a Will after it has been signed are invalid. Estates, Powers and Trusts Law Section 3-2.1 entitled “Execution and attestation of wills; formal requirements: “provides in paragraph (a)(1)(B) that “No effect shall be given to any matter, other than the attestation clause, which follows the signature of the testator, or to any matter preceeding such signature which was added subsequently to the execution of the will.”

Additionally, as pointed out in the Forbes article, the additional handwritten language created confusion in interpreting the extent of the restriction on advertising. In many cases where Will provisions are Contested, a proceeding for construction or interpretation of Will language is required. New York Estate and Trust attorneys are familiar with these proceedings but they may require extensive Court process.

The lesson to take away from the Yauch case is that New York and its boroughs are home to countless celebrities and other public figures, perhaps second only to Hollywood. As such, estate planning attorneys in New York’s boroughs are more accustomed than most to drafting special Will provisions designed to protect a person’s likeness, ideas, or other artistic property. The same attorneys know that the needs of their public figure clientele are constantly changing and intensely private, requiring the highest degree of confidentiality and legal skill.

Had Adam Yauch thought to investigate the integrity of his Will before his death, his Manhattan estate attorney may have discovered the dangers of including handwritten provisions and explained to Yauch that these provisions might end up having effects that he did not intend. If you are a public figure or celebrity who intends to have a Will executed in New York, or even if you are as far from the spotlight as possible, it is always a good idea to make sure your estate planning papers clearly reflect your intentions.


New York City Trusts and Estates Lawyer Jules Martin Haas, Esq. has been representing clients in Probate and Estate Administration proceedings throughout the past 30 years. He is available to help residents in many areas, including Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn. If you or someone you know has any questions regarding these matters, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 for an initial consultation or e-mail me at jules.haas@verizon.net.

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