It seems that Muhammad Ali’s estate is destined for trouble, similar to other celebrity estates that we have covered on this blog recently. It is unknown if the boxing legend died with a will, but even if he did, a will contest may be likely. Forbes reports that Mr. Ali died with an estate worth in between $50 and $80 million, had nine recognized children, four different marriages, and struggled with a debilitating disease that affects the mind. These are the circumstances that set the stage for a drawn out estate contest.

Troublesome Children

The large amount of children Mr. Ali had, as well as his four marriages, makes the number of people who may have an interest in contesting Mr. Ali’s estate quite high. One child in particular, Muhammad Ali Jr., has been estranged from his father since Mr. Ali’s fourth and final marriage in 1986 and has been cut off from the family fortune ever since. Ali Jr. in particular blames Mr. Ali’s fourth wife for driving him and his father apart.

A person planning their estate for the first time is confronted with a lot of uncomfortable questions that they most likely have never had to address. There are medical decisions to be made, executors and trustees to be chosen and appointed, burial instructions to spell out, and perhaps most importantly for some, deciding who will inherit from you when you pass on. This question can often be a prickly subject amongst families, with spouses disagreeing and children being angered by the ultimate decisions.

Someone Will Always Be Upset

There are many different strategies that testators, those preparing their will, employ in deciding who will inherit from their estate and how much they will be inheriting. Many parents are often uncomfortable with leaving their children unequal amounts of inheritance. Often testators believe that if they leave an unequal amount amongst the children that it may indicate that they loved or preferred one child over the others.

2016 will not relent in claiming high profile celebrities. This week’s death was as tragic as it was needless. Anton Yelchin, aged only 28, an only child, was killed in his Hollywood home’s driveway when his Jeep rolled down a slope and pinned him between a brick wall and the car, possibly due to a known defect in the Jeep. Mr. Yelchin, most prominently known for his starring roles in Odd Thomas and Charlie Bartlett, will be deeply missed by all.

An Estate Unplanned

There is no information currently available about whether or not Mr. Yelchin had a will or an estate plan when he passed, but if he is like the majority of Americans, chances are that he did not even have a simple will. According to a survey by Rocket Lawyer, 51 percent of Americans age 55 to 64 do not have wills. Even worse, 62 percent of those ages 45 to 54 have never drafted a will. The lower the age, the higher the chance that that person does not have a will.

Who you name as a trustee is possibly the most important decision that a person who decides to create a trust will make. The trustee is responsible for distributing income and principal to the beneficiaries of the trust according to the terms of the trust. This typically involves extensive recordkeeping, managing investments and property and being in contact with beneficiaries and other professionals to help manage the assets. Traditionally many people have named trusted individuals such as friends or family to administer the trust, but these days many people turn to corporate trustees for managing trust assets. What are the benefits of a corporate trustee over a personal trustee?

Personal or Corporate

Typically, many settlors, the person who brings the trust into existence, will name themselves, a family member or a friend as the trustee. After all, being a trustee is a major responsibility and failure to administer a trust properly may result in liability being taken on by the trustee, which is why it makes sense to name someone that a settlor has a lot of trust and a strong relationship with.

No one likes discussing their own demise. The topic is generally considered taboo amongst most people and is possibly the most uncomfortable conversation topic. This is unfortunate for everyone though, because if a person is unable to discuss their own death, chances are they are unwilling to plan for it either. That is one of the worst cases possible for not just for the person who fails to plan but their family members and people who rely on them as well. Discussing death is the first step to engaging people to plan their estate and while it is a difficult topic to broach, there are certain steps that a person can take to help bring people closer to planning their estate.

  1. Do Not Put Estate Planning In Terms of Death

People looking to engage others about estate planning should not discuss death, rather they should focus on planning for incapacity. A good estate plan does not just encompass what happens when a person dies. It will also discuss plans for what happens when a person becomes incapacitated such as if they are in an accident and unable to communicate and are unconscious.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. left behind a legacy of peace and understanding, but he may have been surprised by the legacy that his estate is forging. Last Friday, a Fulton County Superior Court Judge declined to make a ruling in a dispute over two items left behind by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, his Bible and his Nobel Peace Prize. Fox News reports that the case over these two items is likely to go to trial, with King’s estate, controlled by his two sons, against their sister, Bernice. This is only one of many lawsuits that have crept up in years past over the legacy of Dr. King.

Managing Estate Assets and Legacies

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s estate is not technically what many would consider an estate in the traditional sense. It is not a probate estate, with his assets being liquidated according to his will. Rather, Dr. King’s estate is the for-profit Martin Luther King Jr. Estate Inc. with his three surviving children being the sole shareholders and directors. As the sole shareholders and directors, his three children control Dr. King’s name, image, likeness and his possessions.

We’ve already discussed Prince’s passing previously here on the Estate Planning blog.  Prince, one of the most successful music artists of all time, passed away without leaving a will. This means that he died intestate, and the laws of the state he was domiciled in dictate who will inherit from his estate. That almost universally means that your closest living relatives, usually a spouse or child, will inherit in an intestate situation, but this can get tricky. In Prince’s case, siblings, nieces, nephews, cousins and now self-proclaimed children have come out of the woodwork to lay claim to the late singer’s vast fortune and catalogue of music. Prince has no acknowledged surviving children, who would be near the front of the line in an intestate situation. So how exactly do you go about proving you’re the son of a decedent?

Acknowledged Children, Have No Fear

New York intestacy law is very clear on who will inherit when the deceased is intestate. If there is a spouse but no children the spouse inherits everything. If there are children but no spouse, the children inherit everything. If there is a spouse and children, the spouse inherits the first $50,000 plus half of the balance of the estate, with the children splitting the rest.

What’s In a Name Depends on Who You Are. It Could Be Hundreds of Millions According to the IRS

            There has been an ongoing battle in recent years between decedents’ estates and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). While it is only to be expected that the IRS attempt to collect as much as it can, their recent focus has turned to a rather contentious area in their quest for collections: intangibles. This category that includes property interests like computer software, patents, copyrights, publicity rights and literary, musical and artistic compositions can be difficult to put a price.

Most recently, the estate of former singer Whitney Houston has been fighting off an inexplicable valuation of Ms. Houston’s publicity rights, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Ms. Houston’s estate is just one of many in recent years, most notably, Michael Jackson, who are embroiled in heated tax claims over the valuation of certain assets, most contentiously the valuation of the celebrity’s public image. How exactly does the IRS come to the conclusion of the worth of the decedent’s image, and why are valuations of this intangible so hard to get right?

One of the many goals of estate planning is to limit the amount of fighting that will occur once a person passes on, and there are many ways to achieve that goal. Often this involves making sure that all the proper requirements are observed when executing documents, careful drafting of trusts and keeping estate planning documents’ terms clear and concise. None of these tools however serve as a disincentive to a disgruntled family member who feel that they were unjustly treated as beneficiary. For that purpose, many New York estate planners may turn to the ‘No Contest’ or ‘In Terrorem’ clause.

Risk All, Lose All…

A ‘no contest’ clause in a New York will states that a beneficiary who unsuccessfully challenges the validity of the will is prevented from inheriting under the will. Testators include these clauses in their wills in order to dissuade beneficiaries from taking action against the estate, the idea being that no one will want to risk losing out on their inheritance by risking an unsuccessful challenge.

In a previous post about healthcare and end of life decision making, we discussed the importance of the election of a healthcare proxy or agent. However, not everyone is able to make these advanced plans prior to an unexpected incapacitation. In June 2010, New York enacted the Family Health Care Decisions Act in order to address the issue of healthcare decision making for those individuals who do not have a predetermined healthcare agent or have not left instructions with a living will or Do Not Resuscitate Order.

The Family Health Care Decisions Act allows for the appointment of the patient’s family member or close friend to act as a ‘surrogate’ and step in to make medical decisions for the patient if they have become incapacitated and do not have prior designations made. Similar to a health care proxy’s ability to make decisions, this only applies when the patient is incapacitated. The Act lays out the order of priority that surrogates would be named, starting with a court appointed guardian if one exists, then the spouse or domestic partner of the incapacitated person, followed by adult children, a parent if still alive, a sibling, and then a close friend. Once elected, the surrogate is able to make all decisions regarding healthcare for the person, subject to some limitations. If the patient objects to the election, their objection prevails, absent a court finding that there is reason to override the patient’s decision. Additionally, if the patient made determinations prior to incapacitation while hospitalized, and in the presence of two witnesses, the surrogate’s consent is not needed for any life sustaining treatment, the patient’s wishes will prevail.

Adult Patients

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