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Learning from celebrity errors in estate planning

Florida residents who are planning their estates and the disposition of their assets when they die can learn from some mistakes recently made by a few celebrities. In many cases, errors were compounded by the celebrity's unexpected death.

The estates of actor James Gandolfini and entertainer Michael Jackson had to go through costly probate processes. In Gandolfini's case, he had written a will after the birth of his young daughter but he had not prepared a trust for her benefit. Jackson failed to transfer assets into the trust he created. Individuals should make sure that they fund their trusts and complete their estate plans. Actor Heath Ledger failed to update his estate plan after his daughter was born, so his entire estate went to his parents and siblings. Estate plans should always be updated as soon as possible after a major life event like births, deaths, marriages and divorces.

Individuals should also take steps to ensure that their plans are understood and carried out. One heir to a Johnson & Johnson co-founder left most of his estate to his second wife, and his disinherited children sued on grounds that he lacked the proper mental capacity. Musician Jerry Garcia named his third wife as a co-executor who then cut off alimony payments to his second wife. This also led to lawsuits. Individuals should make certain they validate their mental capacity and name a neutral third party as fiduciary.

Having an attorney assist with an estate plan can help with some of the complexities. People should also educate themselves on what types of plans they need and ensure that they keep documents up to date. Attorneys can advise actions such as setting up a trust or completing an estate plan, but clients must ensure that good recommendations are put into place to ensure their loved ones' futures.

Source: North Bay Business Journal, "Celebrity estate plans, the good, bad and ugly", Emily Menjou, Jan. 26, 2015

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