Here's Who Inherited Natalie Wood's Money After She Died

Hollywood star Natalie Wood first shot to fame as a child actress, starring in classics like "Miracle on 34th Street." Her career continued from strong project to the next with hits like "West Side Story" and "Rebel Without A Cause." However, her illustrious acting career has at times been overshadowed by the mystery and conspiracy theories that surround her tragic death in 1981.

As detailed by the Los Angeles Times, Wood was just 43 years old when she drowned in the water off of the coast of Catalina Island in California. Just prior to her death, she was socializing on the boat with her husband, actor Robert Wagner, and Academy Award winner Christopher Walken. Though Wood's death was ruled as an accident at the time — she could not swim and was drinking — the Los Angeles County Sheriff reopened the case in 2013 following long-standing rumors that she was fighting with her husband before she died. At the time, the coroner's office noted that there were bruises and other signs of a struggle on her body, but they attributed them to her hitting a dinghy when she fell into the water. A modern-day coroner's report appeared to disagree with this assessment. Accordingly, her cause of death was amended from the original "accidental drowning" ruling to "drowning and other undetermined factors."

A big star with a big estate

As one of the biggest movie stars of the day, Wood's death made big headlines. She left behind a large estate, which included cash, a yacht, and multiple houses. Though Wood's exact net worth at the time of her death has not been revealed, court documents confirmed that it was "in excess of $10,000" and journalists and other financial figures speculated that it was closer to several million, per an article from the United Press International, Inc. (UPI)

However, despite Wood's enormous wealth, dividing her estate was relatively straightforward, thanks to a thorough 15-page will she signed just over a year before her death. According to UPI, Wood's estate was to be divided into two portions: One portion for her husband and one for her two children. Splitting up her assets in this way was a method of mitigating any tax burden.

In addition to his half of the estate, Robert Wagner also received the Bonnard oil painting entitled, "The Three Ages (Maternity)," plus possession of automobiles and furniture. Wood's daughters also each reportedly received a painting, though the particular art pieces were not specified. Last but not least, Wagner also inherited Wood's jewelry. However, it was with the understanding that he would distribute it to specific people that Wood mentioned before her death.

The inheritance caused a major family schism

Per UPI, Wood also bequeathed a number of things to her other family members. For example, she left all of her clothing — including her luxurious furs — to her younger sister, Lana Wood. To her older sister, Olga, she opted for a simple lump sum of $15,000, which is the equivalent of around $50,000 today when adjusting for inflation (via the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics).

In addition, Wood had made sure to provide for her mother, Maria Gurdin, by ensuring her an annual income of between $7,500 and $12,000. This was to be deducted from the income earned from her children's trust. The "West Side Story" star also gave her step-daughter, Katherine Wagner, an estimated 10 percent of her biological children's trust.

However, while these bequeaths were generous, not everyone was happy. According to the New York Daily News, Lana Wood showed up to claim her inheritance even before the will was read. Moreover, she allegedly took every single piece of clothing, including Wood's bras. Before her death, Natalie helped financially support her younger sister and it seems that when that stopped, Lana had to resort to another method of income: A salacious tell-all book.

Lana's book was viewed as so full of gossip that when it was published in 1984, both hers and Wagner families cut her off. But Lana Wood wasn't finished with leveling accusations, and decades later claimed that Wagner killed her sister.

Did a murderer inherit Natalie Wood's estate?

The questions about Wagner's culpability in his wife's death raised serious issues. Chief among them were whether he should have inherited Wood's money. According to The Wealth Advisor, California is a state that includes what are colloquially known as "slayer statutes," which prohibit anyone involved with the murder of a person from inheriting any part of that person's estate. In other words, if Wagner was found guilty of any involvement in his wife's death, he would not have received a penny, let alone the half of Wood's estate that he did, despite the terms of the will.

In 1981, Wood's death was ruled accidental and Wagner was thus not considered a suspect. But that changed when the coroner amended Wood's cause of death in 2013 and police began looking into the case once more. By 2018, Wagner was deemed a person of interest, per CBS News. If the case continued and found Wagner guilty, Wood's heirs would have the option to sue Wagner for his half of the estate for "unjust enrichment." That said, it is likely that not much of Wood's estate still remains, and having a long and dragged-out court battle might not be worth it.

However, those scenarios remain hypothetical, as Wagner was quietly cleared from suspicion in 2022 (via Page Six). Thus he remains one of the major heirs of Wood's estate yet still a figure that is mired in conspiracy theories about his wife's unexpected death.