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Marlon Brando and the Importance of Putting Your Promises in Writing

By: Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
September 19, 2019

Marlon Brando and the Importance of Putting Your Promises in Writing

More than a decade has come and gone since the late, great Marlon Brando passed on. Still, those first tumultuous years of posthumous court battles are fresh on many estate planning attorneys’ minds.

Why?

Because there are a number of valuable insights to be gleaned from the events that took place in the actor’s final days. Events that quite possibly changed everything.

The Three Sides to This Kind of Story

Less than two weeks before his death, and reportedly suffering from dementia and the loss of normal bodily functions (like motor skills), an 80-year-old Marlon Brando suddenly decided to sign off on major changes in his will

Namely, he changed executors – going from a long-time personal assistant and business manager to a Hollywood producer and his brother-in-law.

Side One: The Recognized Last Will and Testament

According to the will that was ultimately validated by the court, Brando’s long-time companion, Angela Borlaza, was not included as an heir to any part of his estate. He originally hired her as a housekeeper, and she moved up to assist in other ways over the years. 

Instead, she was evicted from the home she claimed Brando purchased for her in 2002 by the new executors, seemingly so the property could be sold.

Side Two: The Loyal Housekeeper

Ms. Borlaza filed suit against the estate, alleging Marlon Brando’s will was altered while his conditions left him “incapacitated, confused, medicated and non-communicative.” 

She told the court that Brando had shared a secret code within his signature that would enable her to recognize his genuine signature, and she claimed fraud. 

She sought compensation of $627,000 (the value of her home), and another $2 million in punitive damages. 

Side Three: Marlon Brando’s True Wishes

Neither telling – sweeping changes in his final moments nor whispered promises between companions – is far-fetched considering Brando’s reputation for personal (and financial) complications. The approved will actually listed his 10 living children, and Ms. Borlaza’s was not the only financial dispute brought to light over the next couple of years. 

However, the fact remains that the deceased can not speak. So we will really never know the third side of this story. Instead, we must rely on what the court has examined and deemed the truth about his last wishes.

Lesson Learned? In Estate Dissolution, A Promise Isn’t Always a Promise

Although the exact terms were private, we do know Angela Borlaza wound up settling for what some may consider a paltry sum ($125,000). According to law, she was lucky to have come away with anything at all. 

The lesson here is that in estate dissolution, a promise is never actually a promise until it is in writing – and verifiable in a court of law.

What You Can Do to Prevent An Ending Like the One Angela Borlaza Received

The key to ensuring all of your friends and family receive every benefit of what you leave behind is quite simple: put it in writing. Make it official through a will, trust, or other estate planning tool.

You also need to keep documents updated because things inevitably change. Some of the most common life events that warrant estate planning updates include: 

  • Any oral promise you would like to make good on
  • Adoption or birth
  • When your health or wealth circumstances change
  • When you move your primary state of residence
  • Divorce or marriage  
  • Death of a family member
  • Children reaching 18 years of age

Further, if you intend to put any fail-safe measures into place (such as Borlaza’s claim that Brando taught her how to identify forgeries of his name) even those details should be officially documented and safely kept. A lock box is a discrete option.

Then share the location of that information with an impartial third party such as a private attorney separate from anyone associated with your estate. 

Ultimately, Marlon Brando’s will reflects the importance of putting all your promises in writing. Consulting an experienced estate planning attorney can provide advice relevant to your particular circumstances. 

Consider your attorney a partner in planning – from writing the will and establishing your trust(s), to preset estate reviews no less than once every three years. 

Author:
Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
Haimo Law
Strategic Planning With Purpose®
Email: barry@haimolaw.com
LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/bhaimo
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