When it comes to estate planning, wills and inheritance arrangements, it’s what most people DON’T know or do – celebs and non-celebs alike – that can cause the most harm. Although we don’t like to think of our own death or disability, these are a few lessons from Hollywood and throughout history where a little planning really could have gone a long way.
Do nothing: By not doing your estate planning, you could end up like Jimi Hendrix and have someone that you barely know controlling your legacy….after a lengthy and expensive court fight almost 30 years after he died.
Do it yourself: Former Supreme court Justice Warren Burger created his own will consisting of 176 words; but he left out key provisions and his family paid the price.
Don’t update: Heath Ledger never updated his will with the birth of his daughter, leading to chaos and family members fighting through the press. Updates need to be made with life events such as divorce, remarriage, pregnancies and births, etc.
Take shortcuts: Princess Di used a “letter of wishes” to leave personal effects to her godchildren instead of specifying her wishes in a will or trust. Her wishes weren’t followed and the godchildren got trinkets instead of royal treasures.
Forgetting to tell your loved ones where the documents are located: Olympian Flo Jo’s original will couldn’t be located and her probate estate took over 4 years to close.
Failing to finish what you start: Michael Jackson created a trust, but never fully funded it, defeating a primary purpose of having a trust. This made it much easier for his family to fight in probate court….and made the feud public, which was the exact opposite of what he wanted to happen.
Making verbal promises: Marlon Brando’s housekeeper alleged that he made oral promises of a home and continued employment to her, which led to two separate lawsuits after Brando’s death.
Procrastinating: Sonny Bono passed away at the age of 62 without even a simple will in place. This lead to many complications, including a secret love child who surfaced and wanted a piece of Bono’s estate.
Leaving your intent unclear: Whitney Houston’s father named Whitney as a beneficiary on a large life insurance policy, but it was unclear if he wanted Whitney to keep the money or to repay money owed by Whitney’s step-mother. This confusion led to a two-year court battle!
Choosing an untrustworthy executor or trustee: Doris Duke chose an unsavory trustee – her butler – to manage her one billion dollar foundation. When he used assets for himself, it lead to an expensive fight in court that dearly cost the charities Duke wanted to benefit.
We think that the celebrities have enough money to get their plan done right, but they make the same mistakes we do. So take some advice from the celebrities, avoid the mistakes they made and seek expert advice for your estate planning to truly protect what matters to you!
Linda M. Strohschein
Mayoras, Andrew W. & Danielle B. Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! Long Beach: Wise Circle Books, 2009.