Marlon Brando was many things, such as a fine actor and an icon. But according to some reports, he wasn't the best manager of money. In The New York Post, Dareh Gregorian reported that Brando died about $20 million in debt. Could it be true? Well, perhaps not. Not entirely, at least. According to other reports, Brando's will reveals a net worth of nearly $22 million -- much of it likely in real estate.

The truth might be that despite the value of his properties, Brando didn't have enough cash on hand to live in his retirement the way he wanted to. Yes, he could have sold some of his real estate, but he apparently didn't want to. What should the guy have done? A little time spent learning about financial planning would have helped.

There are a bunch of factors that led to the sticky wicket in which he reportedly found himself. Note that most are ones you can avoid in your own life, with a little planning. For starters, with several ex-wives and more than 10 children, his alimony and child-support bills were not inconsequential.

He was also a big spender. This isn't necessarily a problem, as long as you can afford what you spend. But it's usually best to keep spending in check, while saving for the future. Learn more in our Savings Center (which offers special interest rates for Fools) and in our vibrant LivingBelow Your Means discussion board (a free trial is available). If a comfortable future for yourself is not yet assured, perhaps rein in those daily $4 coffee confections from Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) and put off buying that fancy $1,500 General Electric (NYSE:GE) range or top-of-the-line Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) laptop.

Lawsuits and other legal expenses ate up a lot of Brando's funds. (Some legal expenses were related to defending his son in a manslaughter trial.) His weight problem contributed to health problems, which generated sizable health-care expenses. (Learn to live a healthier, better-rounded life in David and Tom Gardner's new book, The Motley Fool's Money After 40.) These health problems prevented him from making the big bucks he could usually make via small movie roles, and thus, they made his financial troubles worse.

Perhaps most regrettable were some business decisions he made, such as a string of failed businesses and taking a relatively small cash payment for "The Godfather" instead of a share of the profits, which turned out to be substantial. (A lesson here might be to trust yourself and the quality of your work more -- though sometimes great success doesn't necessarily follow great work.)

Discuss Brando's terrific work on our Great Movies discussion board.

It's not too late to get your own financial act together. We can help you, by steering you to a personal financial advisor or with our new retirement-planning service (a free trial is available).

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian does not own shares of any companies mentioned in this article.