At the time of his death, Freddie Mercury’s net worth is estimated to have been about $30 million, which today would be worth approximately $50 to $60 million. His assets included real estate, art, royalties, catalog rights and more. Since then, his state has grown to an estimated net worth of around $100 million. We know what was his in estate because Freddie Mercury left behind a Last Will and Testament.
Freddie Mercury, the legendary singer-songwriter, and Queen behind such classic glam rock as “We are the Champions,” “Somebody to Love,” Don’t Stop Me Now,” and “Bohemian Rhapsody,” died on November 24, 1991 from AIDS related bronchial pneumonia. He was only 45 years old. Since passing away, Mercury has since been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001, the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2003, and the UK Music Hall of fame in 2004.
Then in 2018, his bio-pic, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” became the highest grossing musical biographical film of all time. The movie later went on to win best film at the Golden Globes and, as of January of 2019, earned almost $1 billion at the box office. Freddie Mercury created his legacy through song and – because his will is in the public record – we can see exactly how he distributed his legacy among his friends and family.
The Last Will and Testament of Freddie Mercury
Freddie Mercury’s Will first requests that his body be cremated. It then goes on to make specific bequests to five people, residuary bequests for four people, establish a testamentary trust, and assign contingent beneficiaries to his estate.
Freddie Mercury’s Will had it all: specific bequests, a testamentary trust, a residuary devise, and a contingent beneficiary.
- A specific bequest is a devise of personal property or a specific amount of money to a named person.
- A testamentary trust is a trust that is created from a Last Will and Testament.
- A residuary devise is a devise of what is left over after paying expenses of administration, taxes, death and burial costs, medical costs, and any other expenses.
- A contingent beneficiary is your last stop in devising your estate. This is typically a charity, which is meant to benefit in case any of your name heirs or intestate beneficiaries die before you do.
This is how Freddie Mercury’s estate, as we know it from his Last Will and Testament, shakes out among his family and friends.
Creating a Testamentary Trust for His Family and Loved Ones
Freddie Mercury created a Testamentary Trust to hold and receive royalties and income from any of his private limited companies, which held any of his American real estate and his royalty payments. This Trust was created in Mercury’s Will, so after he passed away, as part of the estate administration process, certain assets from Mercury’s life were added to the trust to be sold or managed to provide income to his loved ones.
The beneficiaries of his trust were Mary Austin, his sister: Cash Cooke, and his parents: Jer Bulsara and Bomi Bulsara.
We know this because his Trust is also part of the public record since the trust was part of his Last Will and Testament.
The Resentment Caused by Freddie’s Last Will and Testament
Mary Austin is a private individual, but in one of her rare interviews with the BBC, she stated that Freddie’s Will and his leaving the bulk of his wealth to her has caused deep and bitter resentment, not least among his former bandmates, the members of Queen.
She also said that, “Freddie was very generous to them [his bandmates] in the last years of his life and I don’t think they embraced that generosity. I don’t think they appreciated or recognized what Freddie had left them. He left the band a quarter share of the last four albums – which he didn’t need to do. And I never hear from them. After Freddie died, they just wandered off.”
Privacy Concerns for Freddie and His Family
So why can I tell you all this? Because it’s public information!
Freddie Mercury died with a Last Will and Testament, which contained a Testamentary Trust.
Everything that he owned in his own name had to go through probate and the estate administration process. We have a clear picture into what Freddie Mercury’s finances and money looked like, as well as how much money each of his heirs and beneficiaries inherit because of his Last Will and Testament.
The typical estate administration is about eighteen months long, but Freddie Mercury’s estate continues to be administered to this day because he had a testamentary trust, which is administering his royalty payments.
But …. could Freddie have kept this information private?
Yes, of course.
If Freddie had the time, he could have created multiple trusts and named his heirs as beneficiaries of those trusts and protected both his beneficiary’s privacy and his own privacy.
This also would have protected his beneficiaries from each other. If Mercury had divided his assets into different trusts, he could have protected Mary Austin from the ire and resentment of the other members of Queen, and interfamily resentment from his sister, Cash Cooke, and his parents against Mary Austin – if there was any.
Mercury worked with some of the top attorneys in the world in creating his estate plan, but he was sick with AIDS at the time, his health was deteriorating, and his Will was signed about a month before he died.
There was no time to rearrange Freddie Mercury’s legal and financial life. Freddie owned his real estate, art, bank accounts, royalties, and his private limited companies in his own name. By the time Freddie got around to recognizing his own mortality (remember, he was only 45 when he died), it was too late to arrange for privacy in the passing of his assets to his family and friends.
That means that all the dirty laundry was aired in a very public forum.
How Can You Avoid a Similar Situation?
Freddie Mercury didn’t have the luxury of time when he created his estate plan. We will never know if Freddie Mercury was working with his attorneys to protect his privacy and the privacy of his heirs (attorney-client confidentiality prevents us from knowing this), but what we do know is that a portion – if not all – of Freddie Mercury’s estate was dealt with through his Last Will and Testament and on the public record.
We also know that because the information in the Last Will and Testament became public, it caused resentment from the other members of Queen towards Mercury’s life-long friend and soulmate, Mary Austin.
We know that Freddie Mercury was cremated and one of his last requests to Mary Austin had been to keep the location of his ashes a secret to prevent his final resting place from being disturbed or defiled by fans and non-fans.
We also know that Mary Austin will receive nearly $75 million in royalties from the 2018 Bohemian Rhapsody bio-pic about his life.
We know all of this because Freddie Mercury’s life was laid out on the public record in his Will.
There are a few thing Freddie could have done differently:
- Start planning sooner. Freddie was diagnosed with AIDS in April 1987, according to his partner Jim Hutton. Freddie signed his Will in 1991, four years after his initial diagnosis.
- Create limited private companies or irrevocable trusts to own his royalties and other sources of income. If Freddie had started planning sooner, he could have started dividing up his royalties and other sources of income among different private entities, either corporations or irrevocable trusts.
- Create a Living Trust. If Freddie had created a Living Trust, that living trust could have owned the shares of his private companies or been the beneficiary of his irrevocable trusts. This would have protected his privacy and the privacy of his heirs.
- Create a Final Disposition Declaration. This is a new document and did not exist at the time (or was rarely used), but a final disposition declaration is intended to inform your medical service providers and family what you intend to have happen to your body, and it’s kept private. By creating a final disposition declaration, Freddie could have kept private the fact that he was cremated.
Freddie had good legal advice, it just didn’t get there in time.