Zsa Zsa Gabor, one of the first celebrities who was simply famous for being famous, died on Sunday December 18 after suffering multiple medical complications over the years, including broken bones, amputation, infection and dementia. Gabor ultimately succumbed to a heart attack after living the last 5 years on life support, secluded in her Bel Air, California home.
Gabor’s penchant for marriage and divorce was apparent. During her 99 years, she married nine times, seven of those marriages ending in divorce, one ending in annulment (after one day of marriage) and her last marriage, to Frederic Prinz von Anhalt ended with her death. The exact amount of Gabor’s vast wealth or who will inherit remains unclear. Gabor’s only child, Francesca Hilton died suddenly in 2015 leaving no children and Gabor is survived by her widower, von Anhalt.
Prior to Hilton’s death, she and von Anhalt publicly sparred in court over Gabor’s fortune and her care, spending a reported $126,000 in attorney fees. Hilton alleging that Von Anhalt was manipulating Gabor to get into her estate plan and keeping Gabor isolated from the rest of her family and friends; and Von Anhalt alleging Hilton fraudulently signed a large loan on behalf of her mother. Hilton filed for conservatorship over Gabor in 2012 after learning the Bel Air home of her ailing, bedridden mother was allegedly in default over missed mortgage payments and that von Anhalt had obtained a six-figure loan against his wife’s equity in the property. Hilton’s request however resulted in von Anhalt’s appointment as general Conservator over Gabor’s personal and financial matters. After Hilton’s death in 2015 the Court officially terminated von Anhalt’s oversight of his wife’s finances and medical care, purporting that the socialite only required a general conservatorship to be established over her estate. Her medical needs as well would then be purveyed through an advanced health care directive. Over the last 5 years, Gabor was allegedly in a semi-vegetative state, fed through tubes, unable to speak, see, write or hear. While it is too early to ascertain the value of her estate or those who will inherit, it certainly is a message to all of us to avoid potential complications, to pre-plan and review our estate plans over the years.
In 2013, the Court approved the sale of the Bel Air home for $11 million in an agreement that allowed Gabor to remain in the home during her lifetime (a “life estate” deal). (Note, Hugh Hefner has the same setup at the Playboy Mansion.) The sale was to close either 120 days after Gabor dies or in September 2018, whichever occurred first. It now appears von Anhalt will need to move from the Bel Air home which was the setting for HBO’s Liberace biopic, “Behind the Candelabra“ in 2013, and was reportedly once home to Elvis Presley and Howard Hughes.
A few interesting notes to this story are that Hilton was the only daughter of Conrad Hilton, (the founder of the Hilton Hotel chain), and Gabor. She was also the only child Gabor had with any of her husbands. At his death, Conrad Hilton purportedly left his daughter only $100,000 out of a $200 million estate. At the time of her death news outlets reported that Hilton had fallen on hard times and was reportedly homeless. Von Anhalt purportedly never told Gabor of her daughter’s death citing to Gabor’s poor health.
Although Gabor is known for her extravagant celebrity lifestyle and many marriages, her widower von Anhalt is no stranger to celebrity intrigue himself. Von Anhalt was born Robert Hans Lichtenberg and in 1980, at age 36, he was adopted by Princess Marie-Auguste of Anhalt, the daughter-in-law of German Emperor Wilhelm II thereby legally becoming German royalty. His name was then changed to “Frédéric Prinz von Anhalt”, though “Prinz” is not a part of his legal surname. In 2007 Von Anhalt allegedly told media that he helped support the princess after being adopted by giving her $4,000 every month to give her pleasure in her last days (which led to speculation his adoption was really a business relationship). Over the course of his life, Vanity Fair reports von Anhalt as selling 68 knighthoods for $50,000 apiece, and before marrying Gabor, marrying and divorcing six wives each of whom would be entitled to the title of “princess”. In 2007, after the death of Anna Nicole Smith, von Anhalt claimed he had a decade long affair with her and might be the biological father of her child. This was later was proven to be untrue after DNA testing was completed.
Exactly how much money Gabor had when she died is unclear, as von Anhalt effectively banned all visitation in her final years. Though she certainly amassed a significant amount of money over the years, both through her own celebrity and her many lucrative divorces. Some value her fortune at about $40 million. Where that money, however much it turns out to be, ends up is anyone’s guess now.
-Rachel Zaslow, Esq.