With the passing of several well known celebrities over the past 18 months, there are estate planning lessons to be learned – that of privacy and your estate, along with keeping your documents up to date as life changes occur.
A lesson regarding privacy was particularly evident with the estate of Michael Jackson, as his will, which is filed in probate court and thus part of a public record, was only five pages long despite his very large and complex estate.
How was Mr. Jackson’s estate kept to just five pages of public record with his will? Much of his property was handled with a trust, a legal mechanism for handling and managing property. Since property owned by a trust is not legally in the name of the deceased, that property avoids probate. When probate is avoided, so is a public court record.
Another estate planning tool that was reported to have been used with Michael Jackson’s estate, a ‘no-contest’ clause, which typically means that if a beneficiary unsuccessfully challenges the will’s validity, that person no longer can receive any benefit from the trust or will. It may have stopped family members from a lengthy and expensive will contest that would result in many private matters becoming part of a public record.
Dennis Hopper is another celebrity whose estate is making the news and teaching estate planning lessons. Mr. Hopper’s estranged wife is currently battling to maintain her spousal privileges despite the fact that divorce plans were looming before his passing. So what estate planning lesson may be learned from this? Keep estate plans up to date as situations and life changes occur.
Celebrity estates can not only be used as estate planning lessons, but as conversation-starters within your own family to discuss estate plans. Working with an estate planning attorney ensures that the goals and needs of your family are met, whether it be privacy, the lack of a will contest, or just easing the burden of your passing to your loved ones.