Summary of Marilyn Monroe's Last Will and Testament

What Does Marilyn Monroe's Will Say?

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Marilyn Monroe was an American model, actress, and singer who appeared in over 25 films and died an untimely death at the young age of 36.

Personal Background

Marilyn Monroe was born Norma Jeane Mortenson on June 1, 1926. Her mother, Gladys Pearl Baker, listed Marilyn's father as Martin Edward Mortenson on her daughter's birth certificate with the father's address "unknown." Gladys and Martin had been married in 1924 but were separated at the time of Marilyn's birth.

Shortly after Marilyn was born, Gladys changed her daughter's surname to "Baker," so she became known as Norma Jeane Baker. In later years Marilyn Monroe admitted that she didn't think that Martin Mortenson was her father; instead, she believed it was a man named C. Stanley Gifford.

Gladys Baker suffered from mental illness and could not hold a job to support her young daughter, so during her childhood, Marilyn Monroe lived in twelve different foster homes and, for a brief time, an orphanage. When she turned 16 she married a 20-year-old neighbor named James Dougherty in order to be released from the foster care program. Dougherty joined the U.S. Merchant Marines in 1943, after which Marilyn Monroe went to work at Radioplane Munitions Factory where she painted airplane parts and inspected parachutes. While working there she was photographed for a promotional military piece and was encouraged to take a modeling course.

She dyed her brunette hair blond, enrolled in The Blue Book Modeling Agency and became a successful model, gracing the cover of multiple magazines. She eventually caught the eye of a 20th Century Fox executive, who suggested that she change her name from Norma Jeane Baker to Marilyn Monroe (Monroe was, in fact, her mother's maiden name).

After signing a basic six-month contract with 20th Century Fox at a salary of $125 per week, Monroe went on to appear in over 25 movies and win a Golden Globe award for her performance in Bus Stop.

Marilyn Monroe divorced James Dougherty in 1946. Her marriage to baseball legend Joe DiMaggio only lasted six months in 1954. Her longest marriage was to writer Arthur Miller, from 1956 to 1961. Monroe suffered several miscarriages and never had any children. She was found dead on August 5, 1962, at her home located at 12305 Fifth Helena Drive in the Brentwood area of Los Angeles. The coroner ruled the cause of death as acute barbiturate poisoning resulting from a probable suicide. Marilyn Monroe was only 36 years old.

Summary of the Contents of Marilyn Monroe's Last Will and Testament

Marilyn Monroe signed her Last Will and Testament on January 14, 1961, 10 days before her Mexican divorce from Arthur Miller was finalized. The witnesses to the will were attorney Aaron R. Frosch (see more on him below) and Louise H. White, both of New York, New York. The will was filed for probate in New York Surrogate Court on August 17, 1962. Shortly thereafter one of Marilyn Monroe's business managers, Inez Melson, contested the validity of the will, but it was established as Monroe's valid last will and testament and admitted to probate in October 1962.

A review of the short three-page Last Will and Testament of Marilyn Monroe reveals the following:

  1. Marilyn Monroe's half-sister, Bernice Miracle, was to receive $10,000.
  2. Marilyn Monroe's personal secretary, May Reis, was to receive $10,000.
  3. Marilyn Monroe's friends, Norman and Hedda Rosten, were to receive $5,000, or if both them predeceased Monroe, then $5,000 would go to their daughter, Patricia Rosten, to be used for her education.
  4. All of Marilyn Monroe's personal effects and clothing were to go to her mentor and acting coach, Lee Strasberg.
  5. The sum of $100,000 was to be held in trust for the benefit of Marilyn Monroe's mother, Gladys Baker, and a woman named Xenia Chekhov, who was the surviving spouse of Marilyn Monroe's friend and acting coach, Michael Chekhov. Gladys was to receive $5,000 per year to provide for her maintenance and support, and Xenia was to receive $2,500 per year to provide for her maintenance and support. After the death of the survivor of them, the balance was to go to Marilyn Monroe's New York psychiatrist, Dr. Marianne Kris, "to be used by her for the furtherance of the work of such psychiatric institutions or groups as she shall elect." Mrs. Chekhov lived until December 1970 and Gladys Baker lived until March 1984.
  1. The residuary estate was to be divided such that personal secretary May Reis would receive an additional $40,000; Dr. Marianne Kris would receive 25% of the balance, to be used for the purposes set forth above; and the remaining balance would go to Lee Strasberg.
  2. Attorney Aaron R. Frosch was named as the executor of the estate and trustee of the trust for the benefit of Gladys Baker and Xenia Chekhov.
  3. Dr. Kris founded the Anna Freud Centre in London, an institution "committed to improving the emotional well-being of children and young people," to which her 25% of the estate passed.
  4. Lee Strasberg died in 1982, leaving his 75% interest in the estate to his wife, Anna Strasberg.

The 40 Year Probate Estate

Believe it or not, Marilyn Monroe's estate remained open until 2001. At that time the New York Surrogate Court finally declared the estate completely settled and authorized transfer of the remaining assets of the estate to Marilyn Monroe LLC, a Delaware limited liability company, managed by Anna Strasberg. As indicated above, Strasberg owned 75% of the company and the Anna Freud Centre owned 25%. In 2010, the LLC was acquired by Authentic Brands Group and NECA for an estimated $50 million, which in turn formed a company named The Estate of Marilyn Monroe, LLC. The estate continues to generate significant earnings, coming in at #6 on Forbes top earning dead celebrities list for 2011 - 2012, bringing in $15 million, only behind the estates of Michael Jackson and Elvis Presley.