2014 Celebrity Estate Planning Lessons

Estate planning can intimidate anyone, but you would think world-famous celebrities could pay for a decent estate lawyer. Unfortunately many don’t, leaving a legacy of family feuds, court cases and improper distribution of income. 2014 was another year full of headlines describing the scandal and controversy surrounding the estates of celebrities. Here is a review of some celebrity estates that started discussions and taught important estate planning lessons this past year:

  • Patrick Swayze– Five years after Swayze’s death, the recent allegations of forgery of his will is a reminder of the importance of timely filing any challenges to wills before the window closes for probate claims
  • Paul Walker– The will used to probate Walker’s estate predated his death by 12 years and showed the importance of updating estate planning documents after major life events
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman– He was not married to his significant other, so she did not qualify for the spouse’s right to a tax free inheritance. At least $12 million of the $35 million estate was lost to taxes. Also, his estate plan was not up to date and did not account for all of his children, so they will not be treated equally
  • Robin Williams– A positive example was set by Williams through his choice to rely on trusts for his estate planning to keep his financial affairs private, and to create his estate planning documents early before any illness arose that could cause disputes over validity later
  • Joan Rivers– Another positive example was set by Rivers’ effective use of end-of-life documents as part of her estate plan, which allowed her daughter to know and honor her wishes by terminating life support without the need for court involvement
  • Casey Kasem– The bitter family battle that ensued prior to Kasem’s death and continues today exemplifies the heightened emotions involved when a family member is nearing and reaches the last stage of life
  • Kurt Cobain– The Kurt Cobain Estate net worth has an estimated value of $450 million, but he never even made out a simple will. His assets passed “intestate,” meaning without a will, to Courtney Love (his wife) and Frances Cobain (their daughter). By dying intestate, not only did Cobain have no say in who received his assets, or how or when they received them, he was not able to name an executor or trustee to manage his assets. From 2004 up to 2014 Love was in a lawsuit over the Kurt Cobain Estate. This is all a reminder to do the proper estate planning, including a will and at least one revocable living trust.
  • Tom Clancy– The Tom Clancy Estate has been valued, based on probate court filings, at $82 million. In September of this year Tom Clancy’s wife Alexandra Clancy filed a petition in probate court asking for the lawyer serving as executor to be removed.  This lawyer was the same one who drafted an amendment to Clancy’s will in 2013. Because the lawyer who drafted that amendment is not following Clancy’s intention, Alexandra is asking for him to be replaced. If Clancy had completed the estate planning by properly funding his trusts, and planning out how the estate taxes would be paid, then the 2013 amendment to the will and this fight would not be necessary at all.

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