It is not difficult or infrequent to look at the tabloid headlines to find celebrity estate planning blunders and chaos. However, celebrities are not the only ones who suffer from estate planning mistakes--they just suffer more publicly than the rest of us. Recently, you may have read headlines about Dennis Hopper’s widow, Victoria Duffy, and her heated battle with her adult stepchildren (something I see frequently in my practice). Hopper had filed for divorce from Duffy, but it still was not final by the time he passed away in May from complications of prostate cancer. Now Duffy is fighting with Hopper’s heirs over whether or not she can remain living in one of Hopper’s four houses, as well as who gets what percentage of the estate, among other issues. (Read more about this celebrity battle on Housing Watch.)
What can “regular” folks learn from celebrity troubles? I think the number one lesson is that it is important to realize that your estate needs to be planned using proper and solid legal documents (drafted by an experienced estate planning attorney), rather than left for courts to sort out. I frequently hear "I will be dead, so why should I care?" The answer, in my opinion, is that the planning will be for the benefit of those you leave behind--and if you care for them, you need to tend to your estate planning. Often parents have a hard time addressing estate planning with their children, or vice versa. In those cases, try to use a celebrity estate planning story to start a good conversation about estate planning with your own family (I've provided one above--see some of my prior posts for others, including Gary Coleman).
If you need to break the ice on the topic of estate planning, you may also consider using our free newsletters to start family discussions about estate planning issues. Consider this month’s issue focusing on Family Matters, where we review just these sorts of fundamental legal matters that need to be addressed before it’s too late: from appointing your decision-makers to protecting any inheritance you may leave.
If you haven’t already, visit our website and subscribe to our monthy e-newsletter (just type your e-mail address into the field), then use the sharing options to forward a copy to your family members!