Wills of celebrities offer ‘fascinating’ glimpse into their wealth

The memorable image of Ronnie Corbett's glasses.
The memorable image of Ronnie Corbett's glasses.
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From well-loved comics to revered actors, 2016 has taken some of Britain’s best-known names.

In death they leave behind what has been described as a “fascinating” glimpse into their wealth and who they valued most in life.

The wills of greats including Harry Potter star Alan Rickman and comedy favourite Ronnie Corbett revealed their multimillion-pound fortunes and the people they wanted to make sure benefited when they were gone.

The legal documents - which anyone can order - provide a very personal insight, said Andrew Kidd, a trusts and estates lawyer at Clintons law firm in London.

“It’s fascinating because whilst they may be global superstars or politicians, they still have to deal with £5,000 to the gardener or leaving their jewellery to the godchildren,” he said. “They drill it down to the basics.”

Corbett, one half of comedy duo The Two Ronnies, made sure his immediate family got the bulk of his £3.5 million estate, but also provided for godchildren, grandchildren and £2,000 to his personal assistant.

Meanwhile, Rickman, who played the villainous Hans Gruber in Die Hard, stated which causes he wanted to provide for in the case that his wife died before him.

He left most of his £4 million UK estate to Rima Horton, but had specified that causes close to his heart including the charity Saving Faces and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art should get a share should she predecease him.

Rickman’s will dealt only with his UK estate, indicating an even greater fortune with interests also in the United States and Italy.

Elsewhere the enormity of huge debts and costs is clear.

Magician Paul Daniels may have had an estate worth more than £1.5 million, but the net value amounted to less than half a million - left to his wife and long-time on-screen assistant Debbie McGee.

These wills are among the 41 million stored and digitised by Iron Mountain on behalf of HM Courts and Tribunals Service.

Such documents satisfy a curiosity when it comes to how the rich and famous face their own mortality and deal with their most treasured possessions, Mr Kidd said.

“It affects everybody - everybody has to think at some stage about their own estate and their own families and wills,” he said. “A will is a private document until you die and until probate is granted, so it can often be a difficult thing for people to read.

“People are definitely fascinated by wills, particularly if it’s about the rich and famous. Even if it’s not particularly controversial, it’s just who they benefited and how much they had.”

Despite living in an age where modern-day celebrities share increasing amounts of information on social media, the instructions people leave for after they have gone will continue to give us a raw, uncensored insight, Mr Kidd said.

“I think there is so much to learn because everything at the moment that’s put out there with celebrities is carefully managed by a whole team of professional people,whereas a will is such a stripped-down, bare document, a record of that person’s feelings towards their family and how they want their most treasured possessions and their estate to be dealt with. I think wills will still be of interest (in years to come) for that reason because it is a very personal document that hasn’t been carefully stage-managed.

“It still could reveal things we didn’t know, and probably will, because even though we know a lot about celebrities it’s trivialised in social media - and a will is certainly not trivial.”