Where There’s A Will, There’s A Way — Celebrity Estate Missteps

The Community Link, a newspaper serving eastern Ventura County, published “Where There’s A Will, There’s A Way — Celebrity Estate Missteps” in the September 2017 issue. The article is published in its entirety below, or see The Community Link, September issue – page 11. Other than being famous, what do Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., Jimi Hendrix, Pablo Picasso, James Dean, Howard Hughes, Michael Jackson, Heath Ledger, and Prince have in common?  They all left significant estates behind them, but either had no Will or estate plan in place or if they did they “flubbed” it up leaving their loved ones unprotected. The missteps caused unintended consequences, public disclosure of private matters, enormous family strife and costing their heirs dearly in court and legal fees as well as delay. Jimi Hendrix left no Will leaving his close brother nothing. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Warren Burger failed to add tax provisions in his Will that he drafted himself which would have saved his family nearly $500,000 in estate taxes. Heath Ledger had a Will but it was not updated to provide for his later born daughter Matilda Rose but rather provided for his parents and brother.  Prince’s estate of upwards of $200 million will ultimately go to his six siblings, nearly half will go to pay estate taxes and legal fees.  More than 45 people claimed to be spouses, children or other relatives causing costs for these challenges. If someone dies without a will or trust, such as those noted here, it is called being intestate, which basically means the court follows State law to determine how the estate will be managed and who will receive any assets. It’s a lot to leave up to the public courts to decide, but most Americans do just that. In fact, as many as, two-thirds of adults in the United States don’t have a will, which is an essential part of any estate plan. Some people believe it will take a lot of time to prepare and they put it off. Some think it’s expensive. Others believe they don’t have enough in assets to worry about it.  Then, there are the folks who just don’t want to deal with their eventual death, thinking the will signals the inevitable. It’s not difficult or costly to create a will, but it should not be overlooked by anyone for any reason.  Regardless of wealth, a will and trust are important tools that everyone should prepare. While wills can be prepared by anyone, because of the complexities of the law and often hidden “unintended consequence,” it’s a good idea to at least talk with an estate planning attorney for direction and to prevent unintended consequences and costs later. A will and or trust should be viewed as a “living” document and updated on a current basis reflect major changes in your life, such as marriage, births, re-marrying, special needs of a loved one, inheritances, if you win the Lottery, incapacity and other major events.  Your will or trust is a record of these milestones, but it also dictates how you want things handled relative to them. Maybe, it’s adding a beneficiary or protecting one that struggles with addiction or disinheriting someone or altering a distribution of assets from a previous will or Trust.  Perhaps, it’s ensuring future generations or a charity will benefit from your hard work. If you own or partner in a business, your wishes should also be written down, whether you direct a sale or turn over it over to a relative or partner. Once you have your will and or trust in place, don’t keep its location a secret. If it can’t be found, when it’s time, the distribution of the estate may go through a protracted court probate, which could take years in costly resolution. As seen in the cases of our famous people, family infighting, legal brawls, tax consequences and wasted assets can all result from not having an updated will or trust and being able to find it. You may not make millions or live a lavish lifestyle, as some famous people, but the legacy you leave behind for your loved ones is equally important. Don’t leave everything to chance or the courts and ensure your estate goes to whom you designate. If you would like to learn more about preparing a will or trust, give us a call 805-201-2552 or e-mail administrator@terrihilliard.com.

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