Estate Planning Mistakes by Famous People

Many estate planning mistakes by famous people illustrate on a grand scale what applies to all of us; the need for an up-to-date, quality estate plan.

The instructions for the disposition and management of one’s estate at death through the use of wills, trusts, and other devices can cover almost about any topic you can think of. While the majority of instructions in estate planning concern finances, wills and trusts frequently guide decisions regarding health care, guardianships, business, education and even which heir gets the entire Barry Manilow record collection.

Born2Invest’s recent article entitled “The biggest estate planning blunders of all time” looks at a few colossal estate planning mistakes by the rich and famous.  Estate planning mistakes by famous people show you what can go wrong in the worst of ways.

Estate planning usually conjures up thoughts of drafting a will by an attorney. Although the cost of drafting an estate plan varies significantly based on location and complexity, it can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand. Regardless of the cost, hiring an experienced estate planning attorney will save your family time, money and anguish after your death.

With that said, let’s take a look at some estate planning mistakes by famous people who simply didn’t get around to this very important task.

Ted Williams (Baseball Legend). When Ted died in 2002, he had one will that said his body should be cremated, and another that instructed he should be cryogenically frozen. As you can imagine, there was a fight among his children. This resulted in Ted’s decapitation (postmortem). Therefore, the Splendid Splinter, the greatest baseball hitter of all time, had his body and head frozen in Arizona at Alcor Life Extension Foundation.

Sonny Bono (Singer and Congressman). Sonny didn’t create a will. As a result, he passed away intestate. A lawsuit was initiated by ex-wife and singing star, Cher, to collect $1.6 million in unpaid alimony, along with a fraudulent claim by an illegitimate child (disproven by DNA testing), and Sonny’s widow, Mary.

Heath Ledger (Actor). Heath failed to revise his will after the birth of his daughter. At his death in 2003, his entire estate was split between his parents and sisters, but they agreed to give all the money to his daughter.

Philip Seymour Hoffman (Actor). The Oscar-winning actor also never updated his will after the birth of his two daughters. Since he wasn’t married to his then girlfriend, there was an approximate $12 million estate tax that was owed.

Joe Robbie (the owner of the NFL Miami Dolphins). Robbie had a substandard estate plan that contained a pour-over will and revocable inter vivos trust. This was designed to defer estate taxes until after the death of his wife. However, it didn’t work as planned. She demanded her “elective share” as spouse, 30% of the husband’s illiquid estate, which created a $47 million tax bill that could only be settled by selling off his football team. His 11 children also went to court to fight over his estate.

James Brown (Singer). The “Godfather of Soul” wasn’t around to witness the 12-year epic legal battle among several blended families over his estate.

Barry White (Singer). White died in 2003 in the middle of divorce proceedings. Legally speaking, he was still only separated from his wife. As a result, she got it all, instead of his current girlfriend and mother of nine kids.

There are many more famous people who posthumously became members of this dubious club. Their eligibility for membership was poor estate planning that resulted in unintended—and in some cases, tragic—consequences. Although many Americans can’t really identify with these mega-wealthy or public icons, they do have assets and families and friends, and everyone should expect to need an estate plan.  See here for ideas on how to do it properly https://www.galliganmanning.com/a-will-is-the-way-to-have-your-wishes-followed/

The club of estate planning mistakes by famous people shows the rest of us the need for proactive professional planning. Be certain that you work with a qualified estate planning attorney, so that your estate plan doesn’t end up like the ones above.

Reference: Born2Invest (January 27, 2020) “The biggest estate planning blunders of all time”

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Estate Planning Without Children: Issues to Consider

Planning without kids
Estate planning without children is just as important, if not more important, then estate planning for couples who do have kids.

Estate planning without kids is very important and raises unique issues to address.  If you and your spouse don’t have children, the focus of your financial legacy may be quite different from what it would be if you were parents.  In fact, due to changing demographics, families often have less children than before or no children.  However, couples often ignore planning as they think they do not need to plan without kids.

Motley Fool’s article, “5 Estate-Planning Tips for Child-Free Couples,” suggests that you may want to leave some of your money to friends, family members, charitable organizations, or your college. No matter the beneficiaries you choose, these estate planning tips are vital for couples without children.

  1. A will. You need a will because couples without children don’t have natural heirs to inherit their wealth. If you die without a will, your assets also may not go to your spouse. The state intestacy laws determine which of your family members inherit from you, especially if neither of you have wills. The family of the first spouse to die may be disinherited.  All of this can be eliminated by having a will directing your inheritance to beneficiaries of your choosing.
  2. A power of attorney. Who will make financial decisions for you, if you and your spouse become incapacitated? You can select a person to do this with a power of attorney (POA). You can name a person to pay bills, manage your investments and handle property matters, if you’re unable to do so yourself.  Failing to do so may require an expensive guardianship.  You also very much need medical powers of attorney so that someone you know can make medical decisions for you if you and your spouse cannot.
  3. Up-to-date beneficiaries. If you have retirement accounts or life insurance policies, the distribution of the proceeds at your death is made by a beneficiary designation, not by your will. A frequent beneficiary error is not keeping those designations current.
  4. Give money to charity now. You may think about leaving your assets to organizations that have enriched your life. You can set up a trust to be sure that your money goes where you want. Work with an experienced estate planning attorney to accomplish this.
  5. Remember the pets. If you have furry children, plan for their care when you’re not around to tend to them yourself. You can also put money into a trust specifically intended for the animal’s care or designate an organization that will provide lifetime care for your pet with money you earmark to that purpose as well as name a caretaker to care of the pet after you are both gone.

Remember that estate planning without children is needed just as much as planning for couples with children, and maybe even more.  Considering these issues will help ensure you are protecting in your own estate plan and your inheritance goes to the beneficiaries you choose.

Reference: Motley Fool (September 9, 2019) “5 Estate-Planning Tips for Child-Free Couples”

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Probate: Dissolving the Mystery
It is important to understand the probate process before deciding whether and how to avoid it.

Probate: Dissolving the Mystery

probate and estate planning
If you want to avoid probate, work with an experienced attorney to coordinate your plan and assets.

Probate avoidance is a common concern for our clients.  They frequently seek ways to pass their assets to their loved ones without going through probate.  Although it can be avoided with proper estate planning, probate avoidance should be done carefully and at the advice of an attorney as using piecemeal strategies usually don’t work, and sometimes create bigger problems.  For example, consider using trusts in your estate planning.  See this article for more information.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/how-do-trusts-work-in-your-estate-plan/

Before considering whether you want to avoid probate, it is important to understand what the process is.  The Street’s recent article on this subject asks “What Is Probate and How Can You Avoid It?” The article looks at the probate process and tries to put it in real-life terms.

Probate is the process by which an Executor (person put in charge of the Will) goes to court to prove the validity of the Will and their authority to be in charge of the estate.  I find it helpful to remember that the word probate is essentially Latin for “prove it.”

Every state’s process is different, but in Texas, the Executor starts by filing the Will and an application to probate along with other documents necessary to that case.  Next, there is a hearing before a probate judge.  The Executor and her attorney ask the judge to admit the Will to probate as the valid Will of the decedent and ask that the Executor be empowered to handle the decedent’s affairs as directed in the Will.

Once the Will is admitted to probate and the Executor agrees to serve, there are many tasks for them to complete.  They include the following:

  • Giving notice to the beneficiaries in the Will;
  • Giving notice to potential creditors of the estate;
  • Gathering, valuing and categorizing the decedent’s assets;
  • Prepare an inventory of those assets;
  • Paying off any of the deceased’s existing valid debts or fighting invalid ones;
  • Paying final taxes or expenses of the estate; and
  • Distributing the deceased’s property to those directed by the Will

The above are just the basic responsibilities of the Executor.  The probate process becomes more complicated when a creditor appears, the family disagrees, assets are entangled or cumbersome, such as land or business interests, or the Will was written without the aid of an attorney.  Even worse, it is hard for an Executor to locate assets in the first place!  This can make estates drag on months or even years.  I recently spoke with a client whose family is still going through a probate 10 years after the decedent has passed.

With all of that uncertainty, it is worth discussing your wishes with an experienced estate planning attorney who will be able to explain what strategies are used to avoid probate, how to remove certain assets from the process, or whether it needs to be avoided at all.  The key, as with all estate plans, is to find the option that fits your goals for you and your family.

Reference: The Street (July 29, 2019) “What Is Probate and How Can You Avoid It?”

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