Celebrity Estates in the News

I love stories. In my business, I especially love stories that I can use in my presentations to illustrate the importance of the things I’m talking about. And what better stories to use than stories involving celebrity estates?

Some of the stories I use are a bit older, but provide valuable lessons, like the estate of Elvis Presley, which paid seven million dollars to the IRS because Elvis didn’t create a trust, or the estate of Marilyn Monroe, which ended up in the hands of a complete stranger. (There’s actually a lot of things wrong with Marilyn’s estate; if you’d like to read her will and my analysis of what went wrong, you can subscribe to my newsletter to get it – or just email me and ask).

And then there are stories that are still being told, but already some lessons are emerging. Here are a few celebrity estates I’ve been following, and my thoughts on them:

Prince. The Prince estate has been in probate for awhile now, and according to the news, it hasn’t made much progress towards resolution. Just figuring out who the heirs to the estate were took about a year, with dozens of people coming out of the woodwork claiming some kind of relationship to him. There’s also the issue of his vast collection of music, much of which was never released to the public. The administrators haven’t even given a formal valuation of the estate’s worth yet – though according to a complaint from the heirs, they have racked up forty-five million dollars in fees (yes, you read that right).

The lesson here – have a will, at the very least, to avoid a fight over who gets what. And if you have a large or complicated estate, do your future administrator a favor and start cataloguing it now.

Stan Lee. Stan Lee passed away earlier this year, and the details of his estate plan haven’t been in the news (that I’ve seen, anyway). What has been in the news is the arrest of his former business partner for elder abuse, and the lawsuit his daughter filed against several other people who were close to him towards the end, also accusing them of elder abuse. She claims that these people embezzled from her father and pushed him into frequent paid appearances that severely taxed his mental and physical health.

The lesson here – elder abuse is unfortunately very common, as are accusations of elder abuse by unhappy relatives. If you have an elder in your life, watch for signs that someone is – or could be – taking advantage of them, and don’t be afraid to take steps to protect them. If you are an elder of sound mind and worried about a charge of elder abuse, take steps to make it clear that your judgment is sound and those close to you are trustworthy. And lastly, if you are an elder that is not sure of your continued good judgment, consider ways you can protect yourself from predators without impairing your lifestyle.

Aretha Franklin. When I first started following her probate, it seemed that everything would proceed uneventfully. The heirs were easily determined, the executor was chosen with no objections, and the process of distributing the assets looked like it would go forward without a hitch. So I was quite surprised when I followed up and found out that Aretha had thrown a wrench into the works – several wrenches, in fact. The executor found multiple handwritten wills scattered around her house (I think at least one was under a couch cushion), and those wills directed an unequal distribution between her sons. Naturally, this caused quite an upset. The wills are still being examined to make sure they’re legitimate, and to determine which was the most recent, but already the children are either objecting or asking the court to enforce the will(s), depending on what the will(s) would give them. One child, named as executor in the will, is also asking to replace the current executor, who had previously had no objections to her administration of the estate.

The lesson here – if you are going to have a will, do it right and have an attorney draft it for you, especially if you’re planning not to evenly divide the estate between your children. And for goodness’ sake, make sure someone knows where to find it!

I now have a question for you, readers. Do you feel that any of these stories belong in a presentation on estate planning? Please email your thoughts to me at kaway@kawaylaw.com.

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