The Marlon Brando Will: An Estate Planning Lesson
By: Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
March 21, 2022
More than a decade has passed since the famous actor Marlon Brando died. But those tumultuous years of posthumous court battles from the Marlon Brando will are still memorable to many estate planning attorneys.
Because there are a number of valuable insights to be gleaned from the events that took place in the actor’s final days. And his tale emphasizes the importance of proper estate planning.
Three Sides to the Story
Less than two weeks before his death 80-year-old Marlon Brando suddenly decided to sign off on major changes in his will. , And he was reportedly suffering from dementia and the loss of normal bodily functions, like motor skills.
The actor notably changed executors. He switched from a long-time personal assistant and business manager to a Hollywood producer and his brother-in-law.
Side One: The “Recognized Version” of the Marlon Brando Will
According to Marlon Brando’s will that was ultimately validated by the court, Brando’s long-time companion, Angela Borlaza was not entitled to any 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. And the plan was to sell the property.
Side Two: The Loyal Housekeeper
Ms. Borlaza filed suit against the estate. She alleged 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 which was the value of the home. She also pursued another $2 million in punitive damages.
Side Three: Marlon Brando’s True Wishes
Neither version is far-fetched considering Brando’s reputation for personal and financial complications. The approved will actually listed his 10 living children. Additionally, 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.
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 of $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. That is the only thing that can be verified in a court of law.
What You Can Do to Prevent An Ending Like Angela Borlaza’s?
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 trusts, to preset estate reviews no less than once every three years. Reach out to Haimo Law to get started planning properly today.
Originally published 09/19/2019. Updated 03/21/2022.
YOU ARE NOT OUR CLIENT UNLESS WE EXECUTE A WRITTEN AGREEMENT TO THAT EFFECT. MOREOVER, THE INFORMATION CONTAINED HEREIN IS INTENDED FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. EACH SITUATION IS HIGHLY FACT SPECIFIC AND EXCEPTIONS OFTEN EXIST TO GENERAL RULES. DO NOT RELY ON THIS INFORMATION, AS A CONSULTATION TO UNDERSTAND THE FACTS AND THE CLIENT’S NEEDS AND GOALS IS NECESSARY. ULTIMATELY WE MUST BE RETAINED TO PROVIDE LEGAL ADVICE AND REPRESENTATION. THIS INFORMATION IS PROVIDED AS A COURTESY AND, ACCORDINGLY, DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE.