Summary of the Last Will and Testament of Marilyn Monroe

Monroe made one mistake

Portrait of a smiling Marilyn Monroe
Baron / Getty Images

Marilyn Monroe was an American model, actress, and singer who appeared in over 25 films. She died an untimely death in 1962 at the young age of 36. Born Norma Jeane Mortenson on June 1, 1926, she signed her last will and testament on January 14, 1961.

It was short—just three pages—and it included six basic provisions for bequests. At least one of them might have had unintended consequences.

Monroe's Early Years

Marilyn Monroe's mother Gladys Pearl Baker listed Marilyn's father as Martin Edward Mortenson on her daughter's birth certificate. She said his address was "unknown."

Gladys and Martin had been married in 1924, but they were separated at the time of Monroe's birth. Shortly after Monroe was born, Gladys changed her daughter's surname to "Baker," and she became known as Norma Jeane Baker.

Monroe admitted in later years that she didn't think Martin Mortenson was her father. She believed her father 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 Monroe lived in 12 different foster homes during her childhood. She was even placed in an orphanage for a brief time.

She married 20-year-old neighbor James Dougherty when she was 16 in a move intended to release her from the foster care system. Dougherty joined the U.S. Merchant Marines in 1943, and Monroe went to work at Radioplane Munitions Factory. She painted airplane parts and inspected parachutes.

Monroe's Start in Hollywood

Monroe was photographed for a promotional military piece while working at Radioplane, and she was encouraged to take a modeling course. She dyed her brown hair blonde, enrolled in The Blue Book Modeling Agency, and became a successful model, ultimately gracing the cover of multiple magazines.

Monroe 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."

Monroe's Personal Life

Marilyn Monroe divorced James Dougherty in 1946. Her second marriage to baseball legend Joe DiMaggio lasted only 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 her cause of death as acute barbiturate poisoning resulting from a probable suicide.

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 neighborhood 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.