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Real Life Examples


What to Do and What Not to Do

Just in case you still are not sure you need an estate plan I have listed below  a few real-life examples of how estate planning can affect you and/or your loved ones after your death.

Effective Estate Planning

            Robin Williams, the comic America grew to love. Most famous for his comedic roles and general laughter, Robin Williams also enacted a highly effective estate plan. Mr. Williams left an estate estimated at more than $50 million mostly to his wife and three children from his first two marriages.  His estate plan was tax-efficient and uncommonly sophisticated covering everything from his mansion in Napa Valley to his “memorabilia and awards in the entertainment industry”. 

            Public documents show that the comic left behind several trusts to benefit his heirs. The existing trusts, and the fact no probate estate was filed, show that Williams did the right thing in planning to protect his family. Concerns were raised after Williams’ death that he had been financially strapped, but the records show that the trusts have over $20 million in equity. As Williams used trusts the proper way, his financial details will remain private. After Williams died, it was announced that he had Parkinson’s and Levy Body Dementia. Since Williams drafted his estate planning documents years before he became sick, Williams’ family won’t have to worry about fighting over the validity of the documents due to the actor’s poor health. Be like Robin Williams! Get your estate plan into gear!

Ineffective Estate Planning

            The Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was incredibly successful at his craft. A New York Times article published shortly after his untimely death at age 46 refers to Hoffman as “perhaps the most ambitious and widely admired American actor of his generation, who gave three-dimensional nuance to a wide range of sidekicks, villains and leading men on screen and embraced some of the theater’s most burdensome roles on Broadway.” Sadly, when Hoffman died of a drug overdose in early February, part of his legacy was leaving his heirs an estate planning disaster.

            Mr. Hoffman’s mistake were not few and far between. In fact, Mr. Hoffman’s will was more than a decade old and mentioned only one of his three children. Additionally, he left all his money to his girlfriend, Marianne O’Donnell, the mother of his children. Because they were not married, federal and state taxes devoured an estimated $15 million of his $35 million estate. Wills go through very public probate courts, but trusts do not. We know the details of Hoffman’s will because he chose not to establish a revocable trust.

            All of Mr. Hoffman’s shortfalls could have been eliminated by an effective estate plan, one that is updated every few years, minimizes tax burdens, and ensures privacy. Mr. Hoffman is the perfect example of why you should always do your research and hire an experienced and highly qualified attorney!

Failing To Enact An Estate Plan

            James Dean was a hot movie heart throb when he died in an auto accident at age 24. He died without a Will and under the law of intestate succession of his state of residence James Dean’s estranged father inherited all of James’ assets despite the fact he abandoned young James when James was 9. Instead of millions of dollars going to the people James Dean loved, the money went to his estranged father who he never really knew.

            Swedish author Stieg Larsson died suddenly of a heart attack in 2004 at age 50. He died before his first novel, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, was published. Since the publication of his first book his three novel Millennium trilogy has sold over 50 million copies. Movies made from his books have also been very popular. U.S.A. Today selected Larsson as its 2010 Author of the Year. Larsson never married and had no children, but he did have a live-in significant other named Eva Gabrielsson with whom he lived for 32 years. Under Swedish law Eva inherited nothing from Stieg’s estate because he didn’t have a Will. So sad. I am sure that Stieg would have wanted the love of his life to inherit some or even all of his estate, but his procrastination and failure to plan makes him another bad example of how the loved ones of the deceased are the ones who pay the price and suffer because of the failure to plan.

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