Raquel Welch, whose acting career spanned five decades, passed away in February at the age of eighty-two. Welch appeared in more than thirty films and fifty television series, won a Golden Globe Award, and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. However, Welch was more than an actress. She was also a savvy businesswoman with several successful ventures, including a fitness program, wig line, and celebrity product endorsements.
Her reported net worth of $40 million will presumably go to her two adult children, although there are few public details about Welch’s estate plan. This suggests that Welch was also savvy about estate planning and may have set up a trust for her loved ones.
Movie Star, Mogul, and Mother: A Look Back at Welch’s Life
Welch was born Jo Raquel Tejada to a Bolivian father and English mother in 1940. She married James Welch, her high school sweetheart, in 1959. The couple had two children together, Damon Welch and Latanne “Tahnee” Welch.
Rise to Stardom
After her divorce in 1964, Welch moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. A few minor parts led to her landing roles in the 1966 movies Fantastic Voyage and One Million Years B.C. Welch later won a Golden Globe for her role in 1974’s The Three Musketeers. Welch is also credited with breaking the stereotype of the blonde bombshell that ruled 1950s Hollywood.
The 1980s were more of a mixed bag professionally for Welch. She was nominated for a Golden Globe for the 1987 TV drama Right to Die, but was fired from an adaptation of John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row. Welch sued MGM for breach of contract and won a $10.8 million verdict in 1986. However, the lawsuit led to her being essentially blacklisted in Hollywood.
When it became harder for Welch to get big-screen work, she pivoted to business ventures. She created the Raquel Welch Total Beauty and Fitness Program, a series of health books and videos targeted at women. Welch also published a memoir and self-help guide called Beyond the Cleavage, served as a model and spokesperson for Foster Grant sunglasses, and had signature lines of jewelry, skincare products, and wigs. Her line of wigs for HairUWear sold well and led to her becoming the company’s creative director.
Final Years and Legacy
Welch never left acting behind completely. Alongside her entrepreneurialism, she continued to have roles that introduced her to a new generation, including a well-known cameo in Seinfeld in which she played an exaggeratedly volatile version of herself. She appeared in other popular 1990s sitcoms, as well as the 2001 movie Legally Blonde. Her last professional acting credit was in the TV show Date My Dad in 2017.
Spending her final years out of the spotlight in her Los Angeles home, Welch died on February 15, 2023. Her agent issued a statement to KTLA that “Raquel Welch, the legendary bombshell actress of film, television, and stage, passed away peacefully early this morning after a brief illness.”
She was married and divorced four times and is survived by son Damon and daughter Tahnee, both of whom are in their sixties. Her net worth is estimated at $40 million.
Did Raquel Welch Have an Estate Plan?
The lack of reports about Welch’s estate plan leaves fans to wonder what will become of her fortune. Yet this silence, together with details about her family, offers some clues.
A Trust Could Preserve Privacy
Although fame took a toll on Welch’s children, she worked to repair her relationship with them, and by all accounts, they were on good terms when she died. They made public appearances with their famous mother over the years, but according to Hollywood Life, Damon and Tahnee lead very private lives.
It would therefore make sense that Welch set up a trust for her children rather than having a will. Trusts avoid the probate process and stay private. A will must go through probate, and it becomes public record.
In addition to providing tax savings, a revocable trust would allow Welch’s money and property to pass to Damon and Tahnee as privately as possible. Welch, in this scenario, would have transferred money and property to the trust during her lifetime and designated her children as beneficiaries. Among these accounts and property could be Welch’s Beverly Hills mansion, worth an estimated $3.5 to $4.5 million.
Welch was charitably inclined, as evidenced by her donation of millions of dollars’ worth of wigs to the American Cancer Society. Welch had been a spokesperson for the organization since 1975 and was touched by notes from women who received her wigs. It is possible that Welch wanted to continue her philanthropy even after death. If so, her estate plan could include a donation to the American Cancer Society and similar nonprofit groups.
Welch’s Postmortem Publicity Rights
Welch lent her name to a number of product lines. While the Raquel Welch Total Beauty and Fitness Program is unlikely a big seller today, her wigs remain popular. This raises the question of what happens to her publicity rights and other intellectual property following her death.
The right of publicity, an intellectual property right that allows an individual to control the commercial exploitation of their name, image, or persona, is widely recognized but varies from state to state. One of the ways it varies is in the ability of a surviving spouse or children to inherit publicity rights.
California, where Welch lived, allows heirs to inherit—and capitalize on—the publicity rights of the deceased for seventy years after their death. In theory, Welch could have passed on her name, image, and likeness rights to her children in a trust or will. If she did, they would be able to file a lawsuit if her publicity rights are misappropriated. Under California law, Welch’s children might also be able to financially benefit from her name, voice, signature, photograph, or likeness.
Estate Planning Is Not Just for Celebrities
Many celebrities die without an estate plan, leading to lengthy and highly public court battles. But dying without an estate plan is not unique to celebrities. Around two-thirds of Americans do not even have a basic will, let alone more advanced documents like a living will, medical directives, and powers of attorney.
We may learn more about the fate of Raquel Welch’s fortune in the months following her death. Regardless, her passing serves as a reminder that you do not have to be a celebrity to create an estate plan. Every adult should have one, regardless of their status or net worth. Not having an estate plan means having no control over what happens to your assets in the case of disability or death.
To take control of your legacy, start planning today: Contact us to schedule a consultation.
This article is a service of Stafford Law Firm. We do not just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love.