Most twenty-seven-year-olds could, quite reasonably, not expect to die any time soon. Although the popular singer and musician Amy Winehouse had a long and well-documented history with drugs and depression, it seems that she didn’t expect to die either, as she never opted to make a will.
Amy Winehouse was born in 1983, and her blend of soul, jazz and pop music made her an instant hit when her 2003 debut album, Frank, was released. Her subsequent album, Back to Black, won five Grammy Awards. In her lifetime, she went on to win three Ivor Novellos and a Brit Award. Her substance abuse was first reported in 2005, after she became the subject of intense media attention. She cancelled a number of shows in 2007 and was hospitalised after an overdose of alcohol, cocaine, ecstasy, heroin and ketamine. She also admitted to having eating disorders, depression and a history of self-harm.
Her personal life has also been well documented, marrying Blake Fielder-Civil in 2007. The relationship was turbulent, with accusations of domestic violence on both sides regularly appearing in the British media. They later divorced in 2009, which meant that when Amy died, he was no longer entitled to any of the assets under her estate. He also received no money from the divorce settlement.
On the morning of 23rd July 2011, her bodyguard tried to rouse Winehouse as she lay on her bed, but this was not unusual behaviour for her. Later that afternoon he tried to rouse her again, and found her lying in the same position at which point he noticed she was not breathing and had no pulse. When paramedics arrived, she was pronounced dead at the scene. A verdict of misadventure was reached by the coroner’s inquest, with her blood containing more than five times the legal driving limit of alcohol.
As Amy Winehouse never wrote a will, she officially died intestate. As her parents were still alive at the time of her death, they inherited her assets. After her debts and taxes had been paid, the estate was valued at around £3million though her fortune could be higher with album sales continuing after her death – could have been split between all those with a legitimate inheritance claim. Although it is likely that Amy Winehouse would have wanted her parents to benefit from her estate, she did not get the chance to declare that as she left no will. Had she wanted to give some money to charitable causes, or to leave something to friends or family, for example, these wishes would have gone unheeded as she died intestate – ie without a valid will. Fortunately, for Amy and her parents, no one has challenged the will – perhaps her death would have involved those she left behind with the incredible distress caused by an inheritance claim if she’d still been married to Blake Fielder-Civil.
As Amy Winehouse’s example goes to show, anyone can die at any time. That is why it is particularly important that everyone should ensure they have a valid and legal will in place at all times, in case the unexpected should happen. Knowing that your family and loved ones will be cared for after your death will give extraordinary peace of mind and is the ultimate legacy to leave as your final dying wish. It’s not something people particularly like to think about or anticipate, but acting early can ensure that your family and loved ones do not need to suffer undue and unnecessary pain after you’ve gone. Failure to leave a valid will involves a real risk that your property won’t be split on the way you would have wished – or worse still, one of the loved ones you’ve left behind will come along and challenge the will.