Was Howard Hughes a “Spruce Goose”? How Having No Will Made Him a Headache

How Howard Hughes lack of a will created problems for the state of California.

Howard Hughes was a man of many talents and even more wealth. As an aviator, filmmaker, and business tycoon, he amassed a fortune that was the envy of many. Yet, when he passed away on April 5, 1976, he left behind a legacy tarnished by legal battles and confusion. The reason? Hughes died without a will, setting the stage for a years-long dispute over his estate that serves as a stark reminder of the importance of estate planning.

Why Having a Will Matters

A will is a legal document that outlines your wishes regarding the distribution of your assets and the care of any minor children. If you die without a will, you are said to die “intestate,” and state laws will determine how your assets are distributed. This can lead to outcomes that might not align with your wishes and can cause unnecessary stress for your loved ones.

The Hughes Estate Fiasco

In the case of Howard Hughes, his lack of a will resulted in a protracted legal battle that took years to settle. Claims from alleged relatives, long-lost friends, and even complete strangers emerged, all seeking a piece of the Hughes fortune. The courts were left to sift through these claims and determine the rightful heirs—a process that was both time-consuming and costly.

Learning from Hughes’ Mistake

The saga of Howard Hughes’ estate is a cautionary tale that highlights the need for clear and documented estate plans. Here are a few key takeaways:

Draft a Will: No matter the size of your estate, having a will ensures that your assets are distributed according to your wishes.

Consider a Trust: A trust can provide additional control over how your assets are managed and distributed after your death.

Update Regularly: Life changes such as marriage, divorce, or the birth of a child can affect your estate planning. Regular updates to your will and trust are crucial.

Seek Professional Help: Estate planning can be complex, and professional guidance can help you navigate the legal intricacies.


While most of us may not have an estate as large as that of Howard Hughes, the lesson remains the same: proper estate planning is essential. By taking the time to create a comprehensive will and trust, you can save your loved ones from the headache and heartache of legal battles, and ensure that your legacy is preserved according to your wishes.

This article serves as an introduction to the importance of wills, trusts, and estate planning, using the example of Howard Hughes to illustrate the potential complications of neglecting this critical aspect of financial planning. For those interested in learning more, seeking the advice of a qualified estate planning attorney is a wise next step.

Leave a Reply