Some Common Estate Planning Mistakes Best Avoided

Some Common Estate Planning Mistakes Best Avoided

As can often be the case, many extremely talented people accumulate large estates and they often are not prepared to take on the task of organizing the transfer of assets, according to the Reno Gazette Journal in “Yes, even celebrities make estate planning mistakes.”

Here are the top four biggest mistakes:

No will. Biggest names: Prince, Aretha, Amy Winehouse and that is just a few. That means your affairs aren’t in order and your loved ones are not protected. Winehouse left an unwritten song about her finances, but she also left a $6.7 million estate. She had a brother and an ex-husband, but no direction as to who should get what. Without a will, her estate went through the probate process and was distributed to her parents. You need to have a will to name guardians of your minor children and ensure that your assets are distributed, according to your wishes.

Not setting up a trust. Celebs want their glamorous red-carpet photos all over Instagram and Facebook, but that doesn’t mean they want their personal finances to become public record. A will is a public document and a living trust keeps things private. There was more than one tragedy that followed Whitney Houston’s death. Her will named Bobbi Kristina Brown as her sole beneficiary. However, her daughter died three years later. Then her estate was tangled up with an IRS battle over the valuation of recording royalties. The bill from the IRS: $2.2 million in additional taxes. Her ex, Bobby Brown, may yet end up the heir of the Houston estate. That may not be what Whitney wanted.

A living trust keeps your estate private. It designates who is entitled to your assets, and how they are to receive them. It names trustees, and may provide tax benefits.

Not keeping the plan up to date. Life is all about change. Financial conditions, health, family relationships, divorce, marriage, birth, adoptions, estrangements: everything changes. The world-famous author Michael Crichton, author of Jurassic Park and many, many other best-sellers, was diagnosed with throat cancer, when his sixth wife was pregnant. His will was not updated. She had to sue to include the baby as an heir, and a daughter from a prior marriage opposed it. The judge ultimately ruled that the baby should inherit. However, simply updating his will would have taken care of everything, minus the resulting stress, cost and rancor.

Disabled before death. Estate planning is for the living also. You may be disabled and need help in managing your financial affairs. One out of 10 people over age 65 are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, then at age 85, the rate skyrockets to one out of three. One celebrity whose dementia led to a nasty family rift was Etta James, the blues singer best known for the classic “At Last.” She had signed power of attorney over to a son from a prior marriage in 2008. Her husband of more than 40 years said that she was already suffering from dementia and was not competent to sign any legal documents. The son wanted to limit the amount of money the singer’s husband spent on her medical care. They finally settled, and her husband was named as conservator. However, he was given a limit of $350,000 for care for his wife. Etta James passed away shortly thereafter.

Celebrities are not the only ones who make enormous mistakes, when it comes to estate planning. However, they are the ones that we read about.

An estate planning attorney can advise you on creating an estate plan that fits your unique circumstances and can help you avoid those costly mistakes.

Reference: Reno Gazette Journal (Nov. 14, 2018) “Yes, even celebrities make estate planning mistakes”