A Trust Could Preserve Privacy
Although fame took a toll on Welch’s children, she worked to repair her relationship with them, and by all accounts, they were on good terms when she died. They made public appearances with their famous mother over the years, but according to Hollywood Life, Damon and Tahnee lead very private lives.7
It would therefore make sense that Welch set up a trust for her children rather than having a will. Trusts avoid the probate process and stay private. A will must go through probate, and it becomes public record.
In addition to providing tax savings, a revocable trust would allow Welch’s money and property to pass to Damon and Tahnee as privately as possible. Welch, in this scenario, would have transferred money and property to the trust during her lifetime and designated her children as beneficiaries. Among these accounts and property could be Welch’s Beverly Hills mansion, worth an estimated $3.5 to $4.5 million.
Welch was charitably inclined, as evidenced by her donation of millions of dollars’ worth of wigs to the American Cancer Society. Welch had been a spokesperson for the organization since 1975 and was touched by notes from women who received her wigs. It is possible that Welch wanted to continue her philanthropy even after death. If so, her estate plan could include a donation to the American Cancer Society and similar nonprofit groups.
Welch’s Postmortem Publicity Rights
Welch lent her name to a number of product lines. While the Raquel Welch Total Beauty and Fitness Program is unlikely a big seller today, her wigs remain popular. This raises the question of what happens to her publicity rights and other intellectual property following her death.
The right of publicity, an intellectual property right that allows an individual to control the commercial exploitation of their name, image, or persona, is widely recognized but varies from state to state. One of the ways it varies is in the ability of a surviving spouse or children to inherit publicity rights.
California, where Welch lived, allows heirs to inherit—and capitalize on—the publicity rights of the deceased for seventy years after their death. In theory, Welch could have passed on her name, image, and likeness rights to her children in a trust or will. If she did, they would be able to file a lawsuit if her publicity rights are misappropriated. Under California law, Welch’s children might also be able to financially benefit from her name, voice, signature, photograph, or likeness.
Estate Planning Is Not Just for Celebrities
Many celebrities die without an estate plan, leading to lengthy and highly public court battles. But dying without an estate plan is not unique to celebrities. Around two-thirds of Americans do not even have a basic will, let alone more advanced documents like a living will, medical directives, and powers of attorney.
We may learn more about the fate of Raquel Welch’s fortune in the months following her death. Regardless, her passing serves as a reminder that you do not have to be a celebrity to create an estate plan. Every adult should have one, regardless of their status or net worth. Not having an estate plan means having no control over what happens to your assets in the case of disability or death.