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Musical Master, Estate Planning Disaster Vol. 3 Jim Morrison (The Lizard King)

I have never been crazy about Jim Morrison.  It isn’t that I don’t like his music.  I like The Doors.  I don’t skip the song when they come up in the mix.  It’s just that Morrison seemed like he thought he was incredibly profound, the sort of person who thinks every thought he has while on hallucinogens is revelatory.  But, as I was conducting the light research necessary for this article, nearly everything I read felt like a grim description of a person with consuming substance abuse issues circling the drain.

Since some folks think Jim Morrison was a musical master, and his estate was a disaster, we are going with it for the purposes of this blog.

For the uninitiated, Jim Morrison was the lead singer for The Doors.  He was known as a talented singer, lyricist and poet, but also for his bizarre behavior.  It seems like a lot of his bizarre behavior was owing to a tragically spectacular dependence on alcohol.  He was arrested on stage in Connecticut, charged with public obscenity for a performance in Florida, and referred to himself as “The Lizard King.”  He mumbled lyrics, attacked the drum kit and couldn’t finish the band’s last performance in New Orleans in 1970.  Tragically, Jim Morrison joined “The 27 Club” in July of 1971.  His death in Paris is the subject of speculation and competing narratives.  At the time, he didn’t have a ton of cash, but because the rights associated with Jim Morrison’s music, image and likeness are very valuable, his estate was worth millions.

Jim Morrison’s Estate

The Will

In a twist for a 27 year old, Jim Morrison left a 2 page will–you can read it here.  That will is not going to win any prizes, but it was initially considered to be a valid will.  He left everything to his longtime girlfriend, Pamela Coursan, if she survived him by three months.  If she did not, his estate was to go to Jim Morrison’s siblings.  Also, notably, it states that Jim Morrison was unmarried.  But Ms. Coursan was never able to take advantage of her inheritance.  The estate was tied up in litigation.  Other women came forward claiming they had Jim Morrison’s child.  Also, the remaining members of The Doors alleged they owned more royalties than represented in the will.  Then in 1974 Pamela Coursan died of a heroin overdose leaving no will.

At this point, Jim Morrison’s estranged parents challenged the validity of the will.  They claimed Morrison was under the influence of narcotics when he signed the will, and therefore lacked capacity to make a will.

Common Law Marriage

It appears that Ms. Coursan’s parents then argued that, even if the will was invalid, their daughter still inherited everything because Jim and Pamela were common law married.  As his spouse she would have been entitled to his estate even if he didn’t leave a valid will.  For an explanation of Common Law Marriage and the huge effect it can have on the outcome of estate litigation, head over to this article.

But, let’s not forget, we are dealing with Jim Morrison.  So, he may have still been common law married to another woman when he met Pamela Coursan.  Many dispute this, but another woman, Patricia Kennealy, claims she underwent a pagan commitment ceremony with Morrison (complete with an exchange of blood and walking on fire).

The Resolution

With all these issues swirling around, both sets of parents ultimately settled with one another.  In the settlement they each got 50% of Jim Morrison’s estate and Pamela Coursan’s parents retained control of Jim Morrison’s music rights.  I can’t imagine this is an outcome Jim Morrison would have wanted.  He didn’t get along with his parents and often told people they were dead.  Pamela Coursan’s father is reported to have hated Jim Morrison for “corrupting” his daughter.  So, it is a shame that these are the folks that ended up owning his legacy.

Take-Aways from This Tale of Rock and Roll Excess

Oh, man, there are several take-aways from this multi-layered estate litigation.

  • DIY estate plans normally don’t account for unexpected outcomes.  Nobody can plan for every conceivable scenario.  But estate planning attorneys traffic in unlikely and unpleasant hypotheticals everyday.  For example, there were steps Jim Morrison could have taken to make sure his parents and Pamela’s parents didn’t benefit from his estate even if he and Pamela both died at 27.
  • Be married or don’t be married, but make sure it’s clear.  Generally, if you die unmarried without an estate plan, your parents or siblings will inherit 100%.  But if you are married and don’t have an estate plan your spouse will inherit 100%.  Even if you have an estate plan, in a lot of states, if you are married (or common law married), your spouse is entitled to a substantial share of your assets.  So, make sure you have this buttoned-up if you are living with your partner or are a fan of ceremonial expressions of love.

My web person says I should put a “call to action” at the end of these things. So, here it goes, if you:

  • Just recorded an album that is about to go platinum (or even if your record kinda sucks) and have questions about protecting your legacy and reducing the risk of litigation


  • Have questions about whether you married someone in an MDMA-fueled, tandem bike steampunk love ceremony at Burning Man,

Give us a call at (303) 819-6415 (you are clearly living a life of excitement and we want to hear about it).

If you are tired of reading about estate planning and want some lurid tales of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll, I thought this article was entertaining and contained a lot of rock lore: L.A. Woman and the Last Days of Jim Morrison