All of their fame and money may be one thing, but when they die – as we all do - celebrities are not so different from the rest of us. The same estate planning blunders they make are the same ones we see on an every day basis. Here are the top ten lessons to be learned from celebrity estate plans gone bad:
#10…Both Aretha Franklin and Prince died intestate. This means they did not have wills and their estates will be subject to public probate and their home state will determine who will benefit from what. Although shocking, they are not alone. Just Google it…statistic after statistic shows that an estimated 60 percent of Americans don’t have a will… Bottom Line - get a will!
#9…Olympian Florence Griffith Joyner (aka “Flo Jo”) had a will, but it was no where to be found. She hid it! Because of this her heir spent four years probating her estate…Bottom Line - Tell your executors and professionals where your will is!
#8…Whitney Houston had not updated her will since her child was born. Her daughter was eighteen when she died and inherited a lump sum of seven figures. I don’t know many parents that would want their eighteen-year-old to have that amount of cash all at once… Bottom Line - Review your will!
#7…Jurassic Park author, Michael Crichton, and Heath Ledger both left their children out of their wills unintentionally. How? Crichton’s daughter was yet to be born when he died, and his will didn’t provide for unborn children. Ledger had not updated his, and his will didn’t provide for future children… Bottom Line - Include the unborn!
#6…Marilyn Monroe died in 1962, right? This is true, but her estate was not closed until 2001! Due to the way it was written, there was an unintentional beneficiary to her estate. It was the third wife of a dear friend standing to inherit. Monroe never knew Anna Strasberg, but it in the end she still got it… Bottom Line - Be clear and have backup beneficiaries spelled out!
#5…Casey Kasem’s biggest legacy is no longer the American Top 40 countdown. His heirs put that to rest after the countless and even public fights over his end of life treatment, his remains, and the alleged accusations of corpse kidnapping buried it as a footnote. Blended families are complicated to say the least…Bottom Line - Don’t forget the details and verbalize them to ALL of your family!
#4…Michael Jackson’s estate may become as famous as he was. He did everything right except one thing—he forgot to fund the trust he set up. Since his death in 2009, his family has been fighting it out in probate court and there is no end in sight… Bottom Line - If you spend the money to set up a trust, make sure you fund it!
#3…The Sopranos’ James Gandolfini had also gone to many lengths to put his estate plan in place with one fatal mistake. He didn’t finish it before he died. A whopping fifty-five percent was paid in taxes…Bottom Line - Don’t procrastinate!
#2…Doris Duke, American Tobacco Company heiress, was a victim of elder abuse late in life and much of her fortune went to her abuser after her death in 1993. She was befriended by her butler, who she made executor of her estate and chair of her foundation six months before her death. Duke also disinherited her daughter during this same period. After two years of estate and foundation abuse, Bernard Lafferty was removed from those positions and received a settlement of four and a half million dollars with a five hundred thousand dollar per year stipend…Bottom Line - Protect your estate from yourself!
#1… Elvis wasn’t just the King of Rock n’ Roll. He was also the King of the largest estate tax bill we could find. As a result of no planning, his estate was taxed a rate of seventy percent…Bottom line - It pays to plan!
Maybe celebrity life (or death) isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Our hope is that you will use us and abuse us for what we know to make sure your family doesn’t see any of these same fates.