Estate planning gone wrong: what you can learn from other’s mistakes

Wills and estate planning - Martinson & Beason, P.C.Our estate planning attorneys at Martinson & Beason, P.C. help people of all ages with their estate plans on a daily basis. Although many people would rather not talk about estate planning and their own mortality, it is necessary in order to protect their families. A recent Forbes article highlights the importance of estate planning as well as what everyone can learn from the incidences of celebrity estate planning gone terribly wrong. The following are the mistakes that celebrities have made, which you should avoid:

Don’t procrastinate. Everyone wants to believe that they’ll live forever, but that is sadly not the case. Since we never know when we’ll pass, it’s important to create your estate plan now, especially if your situation is complicated. Sonny Bono, at age 62, shockingly still did not have a will. When he died suddenly in a skiing accident, his estate was divided between his ex-wife Cher as well as the secret child he had.

Even if you’re unmarried and young, you need an estate plan. If you don’t have an estate plan, state law will decide how to divvy your property and assets. If you don’t agree with the state guidelines, you need an estate plan—even if you’re single and young. (As we said above, no one knows when they’re going to go.) Jimi Hendrix died at the young age of 27 with no will or estate plan. Though he and his brother were close, the brother got nothing in his estate. State law gave all of his property to his father, who then passed it on to an adopted daughter from another marriage.

If you’re in an unmarried relationship, an estate plan is even more important. Best-selling author Stieg Larsson left nothing to his girlfriend of 32 years because he did not write a will. Swedish law gave his estate to his father and brother. A partner, unlike a spouse, will not have the same rights to your estate, so make sure to include them in your estate plan.

Put it in writing. In the eyes of the law, your promises to family or friends are not legally binding. If you promise someone a family heirloom, but don’t put it in your will in writing, that person will not receive it upon your death. In the case of Marlon Brando, Angela Borlaza alleged that the actor had promised her his house. However, because the house was in his name and nothing of the promise was written in his will, she had to settle with executors.

Write your wishes in a proper will or trust. It’s not enough to put your wishes in writing; you also have to make sure that your desires are included in a proper will or trust. If you do not do so, your executors will not be obligated to follow those instructions. Although Princess Diana wrote a “letter of wishes” giving valuable possessions to her sons and godchildren, her executors gave the godchildren only trinkets.

Get an estate planning attorney. As in the example above, having a properly drafted will or trust is essential. Writing your will isn’t something you should do yourself or have your family law attorney friend do for you. Estate plans are complex legal documents that, if not done right, may not be legally effective. Consider the case of Supreme Court Justice Warren Burger. Burger wrote his will in 176 words! (To give you a point of comparison, this blog post is *** words long) His extremely short will resulted in his family having to pay court fees and $450,000 in estate taxes.

If you have any questions about estate planning and how to avoid the mistakes above, contact the estate planning attorneys at Martinson & Beason, P.C.