Celebrity Estate Lessons - Peter Ustinov

Peter Ustinov

Peter Ustinov was well known as the actor who played famous detective Hercule Poirot in six films. You would think someone around so many unexpected deaths would at least consider their own, but that doesn’t seem to have been the case.

At the time of his death in 2004, his most recent Will was written in pencil and 36 years old. Because of these factors, the Swiss court in charge of his estate ruled that he died without a Will and that everything was to pass to his current wife.

Now comes the Agatha Christie-style twist: Ustinov’s son Igor, who was set to inherit quite a bit in the handwritten Will, claims that most of his father’s wealth is tied up in secret Trusts, the details of which only two retired Swiss attorneys know.

Having failed in Switzerland, Igor attempted to change jurisdictions to the United Kingdom, claiming that the Trusts were governed by English Law. Mrs. Justice Proudman shut him down, saying she was appalled at the cost of the dispute.

Ustinov's estate was estimated to be worth tens of millions of dollars at the time of his death. However, after years of legal battles in Switzerland and the United Kingdom, the amount left in the estate is now not worth fighting over. Igor himself claims that he’s close to bankruptcy after all the money he’s spent.

To be honest, it’s hard to plan against claims of secret Trusts guarded by secret attorneys that no one knows about. But keeping your Will updated is a way to help stop these sorts of things before they even start. After all, it’s a lot more unlikely you’ve written a secret Trust if your estate plan was updated fewer than 5 years ago, than if your most recent plan is decades old.