James Dean was an American superstar before such a term existed. His movie “Rebel Without a Cause” was a box office smash and propelled the young actor to instant stardom. At the time he was seen as the personification of youth and freedom. James Dean once said “Dream as if you’ll live forever. Live as if you’ll die today.” In 1955, James Dean was taken away far too young in a tragic car accident at the age of 24. By his family and friends accounts James Dean often lived like today was his last day on earth but unfortunately never planned his estate like there was no tomorrow. Today over 50 years from his untimely death, the Estate of James Dean still earns millions of dollars cashing in on his “rebel without a cause” larger than life persona.
James Dean did not have a Will. His estate therefore was distributed under intestate law which explains what happens to a decedent’s assets in the event that they die without a Will. In Florida the intestate law is set forth in Florida Statute 732.101-732.111. In James Dean’s case, the intestate statute devised all his assets to his father as James Dean did not have a spouse or children. If James Dean had died in Florida the result would have been the same under our law.
James Dean reportedly rarely spoke to his father before his death and it unlikely that he would have left his estate to his father. In fact, James Dean was not raised by his father. James Dean’s mother had died early in his life. He was then raised by his aunt and uncle who may have inherited his estate if James Dean had a Will.
The case of James Dean shows the importance of having a Last Will and Testament to ensure your assets are devised based on your wishes and not subject to the laws of the state in which your reside. So, dream as if you’ll live forever, live as if you’ll die today and be sure to lay out your estate plan before you die.