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Learn From Celebrity Estate Planning Mistakes

You might think that celebrities with millions of dollars at their disposal would put some of that money toward estate planning. Sadly, many of these public figures have made expensive mistakes that left their heirs struggling through years of probate or with hefty financial losses. Here are some of the most notorious estate planning mistakes made by actors, athletes, and other celebrities:

1. Writing Up a Will Without Legal Advice

Jim Morrison, lead singer of The Doors, left behind a simple two-page will. Although he was just 27, he left behind a girlfriend, her parents, his siblings, and his parents. Morrison left everything to his girlfriend, Pamela Courson, who died less than three years. In his will, his estate would otherwise go to his siblings. However, his estranged parents contested the will and, ultimately, his parents and his girlfriend’s parents split the earnings and the value of the estate. An estate plan with all factors considered would have ensured that Morrison’s estate was passed to his siblings.

2. Neglecting To Consider Federal and State Estate Taxes

When James Gandolfini, from The Sopranos, died, he was worth about $70 million, and his will left provisions for his widow, his daughter, his son, and some of his sisters. However, Gandolfini didn’t work with an experienced estate planning attorney. This mistake means that his heirs were left to foot the bill for estate taxes. His will didn’t account for discrepancies and complications that arose between the laws in Italy and the United States.

3. Leaving an Unrevised Will

When Heath Ledger died, he left behind a will that was written before his daughter was born. When Ledger died, his daughter was left without any mention in the plan for Ledger’s estate. Happily, Ledger’s parents and sisters recognized that Ledger would have wanted his daughter to inherit his estate and, eventually, determined that Matilda Ledger deserved Ledger’s money. Similar mistakes were made in Whitney Houston’s and Barry White’s wills; estate documents weren’t updated, and assets weren’t managed as the celebrities may have wanted.

4. Failing To Consider the Details of Trusts

Philip Seymore Hoffman left his estate to the mother of his children, not wanting his children to become dependent on their trusts. However, the way his trust was managed meant that his beneficiaries where responsible for a heavy estate tax bill. Michael Jackson established a trust, but he didn’t fund it properly. If these celebrities had worked with experienced estate lawyers, such as John Branca who has worked directly with celebrities, their beneficiaries would not have been left with expensive bills and years of probate procedures.

5. Hiding the Original and the Final Copy of the Will

When Florence Griffith Joyner died, she had a will, but she kept the location a secret. Her family didn’t know where it was, and family members couldn’t find it. This meant that her estate was the subject of family battles. Her estate remained in probate for about four years. This could have been avoided if Joyner left her will in the hands of an attorney, with an executor, or filed with an appropriate official.

Although these mistakes were made by celebrities with large estates, you can avoid the same types of trouble. Contact an estate planner and work through the details of your will while you’re young. Be sure to revise the document as you get older.

Krystal | Sunny Sweet Days
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