Biggest Estate Planning Celebrity Lessons from 2014, Pt. 1

This year saw a number of tragic celebrity deaths, and some were complicated further with estate planning issues. Using these stories can be a good way to transition into discussing issues of estate planning with your own family. A look back on the celebrity deaths and estate battles of the rich and famous shows just how many things can go wrong when an estate is not properly planned.

Patrick Swayze

Although Patrick Swayze died over five years ago, reports are coming out now that members of his family believe that his will was forged only a couple of months before his death while Mr. Swayze was hospitalized. His entire estate was left to his widow, and nothing was left to his mother or siblings. Because of the length of time that the estate has been closed, chances are that the estate documents will remain valid despite allegations of forgery.

The lesson learned: estates are administered according to state rules and regulations where the person died. Anyone who feels wronged by the terms of an estate must act quickly before the statute of limitations on the will runs out.

L’Wren Scott

Mick Jagger’s girlfriend and fashion designer L’Wren Scott committed suicide earlier this year, and Mr. Jagger was so distraught that he postponed part of The Rolling Stones’ world tour. The delay caused a multi-million dollar insurance claim that led to further legal proceedings between Mr. Jagger and insurance companies. The dispute was settled quickly after the insurance companies requested personal information regarding Ms. Scott’s death from her family members, medical records, and social media accounts.

The lesson learned is that insurance disputes regarding a deceased loved one are not uncommon, especially when there is a dispute about who should be the rightful beneficiary to part of the estate. Good estate planning can help avoid these types of issues between family members or from becoming public.

Tom Clancy

The late author’s estate is currently embroiled in a fight over eight million dollars because Mr. Clancy was never clear about who should be responsible for the taxes resulting from his $82 million estate. The dispute is whether his wife’s share of a trust should pay for half of the IRS bill or if his children from a prior marriage should be forced to pay it all.

The lesson learned from his estate is that it is important to be clear and unambiguous in the drafting of a will and other estate planning documents. This is especially important in families with subsequent marriages, children from multiple families, or if the bonds of family are strained in any way.

Lou Reed

Musician Lou Reed only relied on a will to distribute the entirety of his $30 million estate. Because the contents of a will are public record through the probate court system, newspapers and other media outlets could publish the details of Mr. Reed’s assets, income, and distributions.

The lesson learned from Mr. Reed is that probate is public, time consuming, and expensive. The use of other estate planning tools instead of or in conjunction with a will can help keep a family’s affairs private and out of probate.

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