Even rich and famous sometimes fail to plan properly

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It’s almost impossible to overstate the importance of estate planning, regardless of the size of your estate or your age. A close second to the need to plan your estate is getting it done correctly, based on your individual circumstances.

You might think those who are rich and famous would be way ahead of the curve when it comes to planning their estates properly, considering the resources and lawyers presumably available to them. Yet, there are a number of celebrities and people of note who died with inadequate (or nonexistent) estate plans.

No estate plan
A case in point involves former entertainer-turned congressman Sonny Bono. He died in a skiing accident in 1998, leaving no will or estate plan of any kind. His surviving wife had to petition the probate court to be appointed her deceased husband’s administrator, seek court permission to continue various business ventures, and settle multiple claims against the estate. To make matters worse, a claim against the estate was brought by a purported extramarital child, which necessitated a DNA test from Sonny’s body to determine whether he’d fathered the claimant (he did not).

Do-it-yourself disaster
The law does not require that you hire an attorney to prepare your will. However, even the highest-ranking jurist of his time should have relied on estate planning experts to prepare his estate plan. Instead, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren E. Burger, who died in 1995, apparently typed his own will, which contained several typographical errors. More importantly, he neglected to address several issues that a well drafted will would typically include. His family paid over $450,000 in taxes and had to seek the probate court’s permission to complete administrative tasks like selling real estate.

The importance of updating your estate plan
It’s important to periodically review your estate planning documents to be sure they’re up-to-date. Actor Heath Ledger had prepared a will years before his death. However, there were several changes in his life that transpired after the will had been written. Including his relationship with actress Michelle Williams and the birth of their daughter Matilda. His will left everything to his parents and sister, and failed to provide for his “significant other” and their child. Apparently his family eventually agreed to provide for Matilda but not without some family disharmony.

Let someone know where the documents are kept
An updated estate plan only works if the people responsible for carrying out your wishes know where to find important documents. Olympic medalist Florence Griffith Joyner died at age 38, but her husband claimed he couldn’t locate her will. This led to a dispute between him and Joyner’s mother, who claimed the right to live in the Joyner house for the rest of her life.

These are just a few examples of why, no matter who you are, or how large or small your estate is, it’s essential to create a well drafted, thorough estate plan, periodically review and update it, and let someone know where to find key documents.

Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2016.

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