Chris Fick & Associates

Quiz Question:

Who was the biggest beneficiary of Marilyn Monroe’s estate ?

Was it

  • May Reis – personal secretary
  • Gladys Baker – her mother
  • Bernice Miracle- her half-sister, or
  • Anna Strasberg – her acting coach’s second wife whom she met once.

Answer: Anna Strasberg. (Read the story below)

(The story)

A Summary of Marilyn Monroe’s Last Will and Testament

Marilyn Monroe signed her last Will and testament 10 days before her Mexican divorce from Arthur Miller was finalized. The witnesses to the will were attorney Aaron R. Frosch and Louise H. White, both of New York, New York.

The will was filed for probate in the New York Surrogate Court on August 17, 1962. It was almost immediately contested by one of Monroe’s business managers, Inez Melson, but it was eventually established as Monroe’s valid last will and testament, and it was finally admitted to probate in October 1962.

The Will included the following provisions:

Monroe’s half-sister, Bernice Miracle, was to receive $10,000. Monroe’s personal secretary, May Reis, was to receive $10,000.Her friends, Norman and Hedda Rosten, each received $5,000. If they both predeceased Monroe, $5,000 would go to their daughter, Patricia Rosten, to be used for her education. All of Monroe’s personal effects and clothing were to go to her mentor and acting coach, Lee Strasberg. 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. The balance of the trust 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” after both Baker and Chekhov had died. Mrs. Chekhov lived until December 1970, and Gladys Baker lived until March 1984.The residuary estate—the balance remaining after these bequests—was to be divided so that her personal secretary, May Reis, would receive an additional $40,000. Dr. Marianne Kris would receive 25% of the balance after this bequest was made to be used for the same purposes as above. The remaining 75% would go to Lee Strasberg.

Attorney Aaron R. Frosch was named as the executor of the estate and trustee of the trust for the benefit of Baker and Chekhov.

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.

Then Lee Strasberg died in 1982, leaving his 75% interest in the estate to his second wife Anna Strasberg.

The 40-Year Probate Estate

Marilyn Monroe’s estate remained open for a very long time – until 2001. The New York Surrogate Court then finally declared that the estate completely settled. It authorized the transfer of the remaining assets of the estate to Marilyn Monroe LLC, a Delaware limited liability company formed and managed by Anna Strasberg.

The LLC was acquired by Authentic Brands Group and NECA for an estimated $50 million in 2010, which in turn formed a company called The Estate of Marilyn Monroe, LLC.

The estate continues to generate significant earnings.

What Went Wrong?

On the surface, it might seem that Monroe planned her estate rather well. But she made one crucial error that might have resulted in her estate going to at least one individual she didn’t intend to inherit – Anna Strasberg.

Monroe had met Anna only once in her life. She was particularly close with Strasberg’s first wife Paula but not so much with his second spouse.

But Monroe left the lion’s share of her estate to Lee Strasberg without any provisions as to what should happen with that bequest at the time of his death. It, therefore, went to his surviving spouse Anna Strasberg, who reportedly made a fortune off that inheritance, somewhere in the neighbourhood of $20 to $30 million dollars. She used the windfall to strike various licensing deals for publicity rights and products bearing Monroe’s image.

Did Monroe intend to make Anna Strasberg a multimillionaire? Probably not, and she could have made provisions in her estate stating that the largesse should go elsewhere at the time of Lee Strasberg’s death. Unfortunately, she didn’t do that and someone she barely knew was able to capitalize on her mistake.

Author Edna Hampton