In life, rocker Johnny Thunders was an example of all things rock ‘n roll, but in death, his story is emblematic of what inadequate estate planning—no matter how small—could do to a family.
The New York Dolls member died in 1991 at age 38 of what many believe was a drug overdose in a Louisiana Hotel. And in his death, Thunders—also known as John Genzale—had only $4,000 to his name. And while many—including Thunders—thought that might not seem like a lot, the consequences of improper estate planning have since plagued his family.
“Estate planning is vital for everyone,” Rocco Beatrice, managing director of Estate Street Partners said. “In the scheme of one’s life, the amount of money it takes to set up documents that provide many positives, such as limiting litigation, qualifying for Medicaid nursing home care, and leaving specific instructions for the distribution of wealth, is well worth it.”
Thunders’ sister Mariann Bracken landed her late brother’s estate and made several hundreds of thousands of dollars through investments over the years. The estate grew to more than $250,000 with periodic payments being made out to the family every year. That kind of cash might come as a surprise to some people, Beatrice said.
“You never know what is going to happen if you don’t estate plan with a will or a trust,” Beatrice said. “People are always underestimating their worth and don’t take into account things like asset growth, real estate, potential inheritances, and windfalls.”
But her death in 2009 left Thunders’ estate and those annual payments once again in the balance.
Thunders’ daughter Jamie Michelle Suzanne Genzale was then named the administrator of the rocker’s estate but she was unable to pay the $75,000 bond required to oversee the payment.
“The issue of a bond to manage an estate or trust is not often discussed. The majority of states require some kind of ‘insurance’ to protect the beneficiaries,” Beatrice said. “Either the estate or the person charged with managing the estate must pay for the bond. This can put a great strain on relatives.”
The estate has since been at the core of a bitter family legal battle, in which Thunders’ sons Vito and Dino Genzale—who have not received a payment in four years—have sued their sister Jamie to bar her from gaining control of the remaining $160,000.
Thunders’ estate debacle has since become a lesson for all, according to Estate Street Partners. Such legal battles could be avoided with things like a will, or an irrevocable trust for an LLC that would hold onto revenues, the group said.
Beatrice said that because Thunders was an entertainment celebrity, he could have collected royalties even after his death.
“You don’t want the state deciding what happens to your assets after you pass. Most of the time they just pick the nearest relative and put them in charge with very little guidance,” Beatrice said. “Best to put together and estate plan and make sure you’re the one dictating where your assets go.”