Estate Planning Lessons to Be Learned from Paul Walker

estate planning lessonsIn November, film actor Paul Walker—star of the Fast & Furious movies—tragically died in a car accident. He is survived by his parents and his 15-year-old daughter, Meadow.

Though this is a tragedy for Walker’s family and fans, there is also something to be learned.

A recent Forbes article discusses the Walker estate and gives several important lessons to be learned from it: 

  1. Trusts can be useful. Paul Walker had a trust, which is an estate planning tool that goes beyond a simple will. A trust allows you to skip the probate process and also gives you control over when and how your assets will be distributed. Hopefully, Walker’s daughter will receive the benefits of her father’s estate over a period of time instead of in a lump sum. A good estate planning attorney would advise stretching out distributions so that young adults aren’t tempted to blow the money.
  2. Trusts need to be fully funded during life to be the most effective. Paul Walker, upon his death, had $25 million in assets. The reason we know this is because he didn’t fully fund his trust with all of his assets. The assets that didn’t make it into the trust are public and will go through probate, whereas a trust is private.
  3. It’s important to name a guardian for minor children. Paul Walker named his mother as the guardian of his daughter. (This doesn’t automatically mean that Meadow’s mother will lose custody, however.) It’s crucial to appoint a guardian for your minor children in a will: without one, the court will decide.
  4. Start estate planning early. Paul Walker’s untimely passing should serve as a warning to people who are putting off estate planning. Creating a will and other estate planning documents is not only for the elderly. Unfortunately, you never know if you will actually live long enough to qualify as a senior citizen, so take the necessary steps to protect your family now.
  5. Estate plans should be updated. Twelve years passed between the time that Paul Walker created his estate plan and passed away. During that time, he didn’t update his estate plan. This is too long to go without updating your plan. If your net worth increases (like Walker’s) or decreases, if you marry or divorce, or if you have a child, your estate plan should reflect these changes.

Take these lessons and apply them to your own life: everyone should have an estate plan, and it’s never too soon to start.