Estate Planning Lessons from Celebrity Wills – Part 1

Celebrity wills show common estate planning problems on a large screen.  Let’s look at some famous will controversies and see what lessons we can take away…

  • When Michael Jackson died suddenly at the age of 50 in 2009, it unleashed a torrent of publicity about his family and affairs.   Michael created the Michael Jackson Family Trust during his lifetime.  A trust keeps affairs private and out of probate court and public records.  It gives the creator control over who and how beneficiaries get assets.   In Jackson’s case, however, he never transferred his assets into the trust.  As a result, his estate went through a very public court process. The general public learned all about the Jackson family’s dirty laundry as well as financial details, such as his mother’s monthly grooming expenses of $1,000 and his family’s monthly allowance of $86,000. [Daily News article here.]

o   What can we learn? A trust, unlike a will, can avoid the probate court process if it is set up correctly.   If you don’t follow through and complete the steps to set up your trust, you lose the best benefits –  avoiding probate and privacy in family matters and finances.  Many legal document services do not explain the steps necessary to complete the plan, so work with an attorney who can help you ensure that your plan will function as intended.

  • Senator Ted Kennedy created a living trust and used a pour-over will to direct any remaining assets titled in his name into his trust. Senator Kennedy did not choose his second wife or any of his children to administer his estate.  Instead, he chose a trusted family friend, Paul G. Kirk Jr.  This is a common second-marriage strategy.  Senator Kennedy may have been trying to avoid family conflict by choosing a neutral third party to administer his estate. [Look at a copy of his will here.]

o   What can we learn? In second marriages or situations where there is likely to be some friction, choosing a neutral third party, such as family friend or professional personal representative, is a sensible idea.  Good estate planning means taking reasonable precautions ahead of time to avoid costly and/or bitter disputes later.

Contact Lyon Law Office today to get started on your own estate plan.

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