By now, I am sure you have grown accustom to hearing about celebrity faux pas when it comes to estate planning. The latest celebrity in this ever-growing list is the late electronic dance music (“EDC”) phenom, Avicii, who passed away last April at only 28 years old due to self-inflicted wounds.
Avicii, whose real name was Tim Bergling, was a Swedish musician, DJ, and music producer. (Even if you are over the age of 35 or not an EDC fan, I am sure you have heard his music, most particularly “Wake Me Up,” which topped music charts across the world in 2013.)
In his short life, his talent earned him a Grammy nomination and a great deal of financial success, with yearly earnings in the tens of millions of dollars, which landed him on many of Forbes’ highest earning lists. When he died in 2018, he was reported to have a net worth of about $50 million.
And yet, he was never motivated by money. During a 2012 interview, he stated, “I discovered when I started making money that I didn’t really need it.” And so, he turned towards charitable goals, “When you have such an excess of money you don’t need, the most sensible, most human and completely obvious thing is to give to people in need”—and he meant it. In 2012, he embarked on a tour called “House for Hunger” and donated all of his income from the tour to the charity, Feeding America, to combat hunger. He added another $1 million afterwards, along with an additional one million euros to a Swedish “hunger aid” charity a year later. And these were just some of the publicly-reported gifts.
But as charitably-inclined as he was during his lifetime, Avicii left nothing to charity. Why? Because he died intestate as a citizen of Sweden. By not making out even a simple Will before his death, his wishes for what happens with his fortune no longer matter, legally. Sweden’s probate laws do not consider charities to be heirs at law of an individual. Therefore, because Avicii was not married and had no children, his assets passed to his parents—even though he may have preferred to gift some of his wealth to charity given his charitable track record.
Fortunately for his parents, there will not be a large tax bill, as Sweden does not have an estate or inheritance tax. However, because Avicii was a resident of California, his U.S. assets, including the Hollywood Hills home, they may be subject to estate taxes.
Even then, however, good estate planning could have minimized those taxes and memorialized his charitable wishes. Estate planning often starts with a basic will, and for most twenty-somethings, that should be enough. People with greater wealth—even a small fraction of what Avicii earned—should work with an experienced estate planning attorney to determine what sophisticated planning measures are suitable for their situation, whether it be a revocable living trust or something else.
And therein lies the lesson. It matters not that Avicii was only 28 years old. Tomorrow is not promised to anyone. Do not wait until “someday” to plan for what happens when you die.