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Celebrity estate mistakes show what not to do

Gregory A. Lang

Minnesota residents who are in the process of preparing or updating their estate plans may be interested in the lessons that can be learned from several celebrity estate plan disasters. These cases clearly demonstrate the real problems that may be caused in the event estate plans are written hastily, without consideration for tax consequences or if they accidentally disinherit children by failing to be updated correctly.

Actor James Gandolfini died suddenly in June 2013 at the relatively young age of 51. His death came a year after his one-year-old daughter was born. He had created a will two months after her birth but failed to complete his plan with a trust, thus leaving his estate to go through the intense scrutiny of probate court. Because of his failure to complete his plan, his estate lost a sizable amount of its value in taxes and fees.

Heath Ledger's death came before he had updated his estate plan to reflect his young daughter or his girlfriend. His entire estate thus passed to his parents and his siblings. His case illustrates the need to update plans to reflect life changes, such as births. Jerry Garcia appointed his third wife as co-executor of his estate, directing her to make alimony payments to his former wife and child support to his youngest daughter. His third wife cut off payments despite the provisions of the will. Although his second wife and daughter sued and won, they settled for less than the amount they would have received in order to avoid appeals.

There are other cases that illustrate the problems that can arise from poor estate planning or failing to update an existing plan to reflect life events. People should make certain all aspects are included in their estate plans, including such things as business succession planning and others that may not at first seem obvious.

Source: North Bay Business Journal, "Celebrity estate plans, the good, bad and ugly", Emily Menjou, Jan. 26, 2015

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