Lesser Known Estate Planning Mistakes

Some celebrity estates are discussed endlessly. Everyone hears about the mistakes they made. Other celebrity estate planning mistakes go little noticed, but they can be just as important.

Celebrities are perhaps more aware than anyone else, how the media can sometimes appear to randomly decide to focus on one thing and not something else. Some celebrity marriages or breakups are discussed endlessly, while others are barely mentioned at all. The difference between the two is not always clear.

The same thing happens with celebrity deaths and estates.

The estates of some celebrities are the subject of headline after headline, usually pointing out mistakes that are made. For example, the estates of Robin Williams, Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson are well-known because of the mistakes in estate planning and the family feuds that ensued.

Other celebrity estate plans and their mistakes are not mentioned as often, but they can also be instructive.

Recently, the Lamorinda Weekly mentioned a couple of these lesser known mistakes in “Avoid These Celebrity Mistakes With Your Estate Plan,” including:

•Failure to Update – Actor Heath Ledger prepared a comprehensive estate plan that left provisions for his parents and his sisters. However, he never updated his plans after his daughter was born and, as a result, she was not even mentioned in the plans. It did end well, however, with the family putting the bulk of the estate in a trust for her benefit.

•The Hidden Estate Plan – Florence Griffith Joyner also went to the trouble of getting an estate plan. The problem was that she did not tell anyone where to find the plan. No one was ever able to locate her will and the estate was only settled after four years of bitter fighting between her family members.

Regardless of your celebrity status, contact a qualified estate planning attorney to do things right and to avoid unnecessary mistakes.

Reference: Lamorinda Weekly (Dec. 28, 2016) “Avoid These Celebrity Mistakes With Your Estate Plan.”

Custom Coffins

If you have always wanted to be buried for eternity in an airplane, largemouth bass or something else, that can be arranged.

When people plan for their own funerals or for those of recently deceased loved ones, they normally choose from a wide-range of coffins at varying price points. Most of these coffins have a lot in common. They are all in the basic shape of a rectangular box. The shape has been standard for a long time.

However, the Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog reports on a different type of coffin in “The First Family of Custom Coffins.”

A family in Ghana is in the business of creating coffins in the shape of just about anything, so that people can be buried in something that represents their life. A YouTube video of their work is available at the blog’s website.

This is part of a larger trend concerning death and funerals. People are choosing to turn away from traditions in place of specific ways for the deceased to be remembered. The trend includes everything from humorous obituaries to lavish services and now custom coffins.

Many families find that by customizing the funeral experience in unusual, nontraditional ways, they get a better sense of closure and peace.

There is a potential downside to this trend, however.

The unusual arrangements are often made after the deceased has passed away. That leaves open the question of whether it is how the deceased would like to be remembered.

One thing people can do to make sure they are remembered in the way they want, is to leave specific funeral instructions as part of their estate planning.

Reference: Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog (Dec. 30, 2016) “The First Family of Custom Coffins.”

Put Investments in Your Trust

Deciding what should go into your trust and what should not, can sometimes be complicated. However, it is not complicated when talking about your investment accounts.

Once you get a proper trust drafted by an experienced estate planning attorney, you then need to start funding the trust. You need to start adding your assets into the trust.

That can sometimes be difficult, since you might not want everything to go into your trust right away. Your estate plan might be created so that it keeps certain assets out of the trust for various reasons. You might not want to wait to put some things in the trust until after you pass away when your will directs that it is where they should go.

One class of assets, however, should almost always go into your trust as The Herald Bulletin discusses in “If you have a trust, that’s where your investments should go.”

Any investments that you have should almost always go into your trust. This is done for tax reasons most of the time, but it is a clear call.

That does not mean, however, that you should put your IRA into a trust. That is a complicated decision that you will want to talk to your attorney about.

However, any other investments should be put into the trust.

Whenever you have questions about what should or should not be placed into your trust, the best thing to do is to ask your estate planning attorney.

Reference: The Herald Bulletin (Dec. 17, 2016) “If you have a trust, that’s where your investments should go.”

Be on the Lookout for Trust Scams

Unscrupulous companies employ salespeople to scam the elderly into paying large sums for worthless estate planning documents that are not created by attorneys.

As a recent article in My San Antonio “‘Trust mill’ scam hits elderly hard” illustrates, this is an important thing of which elderly people need to be aware. A reader wrote in to ask questions about an estate plan his parents had purchased from what they thought was an attorney in Dallas.

When the man’s father passed away, his mother could not find the original documents, but was able to receive copies of a will, revocable trust and general durable power of attorney from the party that sold them to the couple.

The reader wanted to know if the copies could be used in place of the originals.

What happened next is all too common.

The columnist consulted with the state bar and learned quickly that there was no Dallas attorney. The person who sold the couple the documents had never been an attorney. It was actually a salesperson hired by a company to sell elderly people so-called estate plans.

Companies known as “Trust Mills” sell people form estate documents, which leave the victims thinking that they have good estate plans.
They do not.

They have one-size fits all documents that are often worth less than the paper they are printed on.

If you want to get an estate plan, do not rely on someone who shows up at your door or who offers you a free lunch to sit through a seminar. Make sure that you are dealing with an actual estate planning attorney.

Reference: My San Antonio (Dec. 15, 2016) “‘Trust mill’ scam hits elderly hard.”

Family Estate Disputes Not Just about Money

It is well known that many wealthy families have massive fights over estates. Sometimes, the public watches these disputes play out in the courts and media. They are not just about money.

Estate battles have been going on between siblings for as long as there have been estates and wealthy people who pass away. History books are full of the wars that occurred when a king passed away and his children fought with large armies for the crown.

In the U.S., the participants in a family estate fight no longer enlist armies and fight it out on a field of battle. People now fight things out in court. However, the reasons for the disputes today are very similar to what they were hundreds of years ago.

While ostensibly these feuds are over the wealth, crown or other inheritance, there is normally something deeper going on as Psych Central points out in “Death, Wealth, and the Psychological Anatomy of a Family Dispute.”

Psychologists and even pop culture have known for a long time about sibling rivalry. Although there is disagreement about the core reasons for the phenomenon, no one disputes that it exists. Whether it has its roots in birth order, a desire to be loved more by parents or something else, sibling rivalry is a real thing that does not go away when children grow up.

The same psychological reasons that lead siblings to argue over who gets to ride shotgun in the car, are the same reasons that lead to arguments over estates.

Little can be done to end sibling rivalry in a family. On the other hand, knowing that it exists and making estate plans with it in mind, can go a long way toward making sure it does not get completely out of control in a fight over an estate.

Reference: Psych Central (Dec. 13, 2016) “Death, Wealth, and the Psychological Anatomy of a Family Dispute.”

You Can Die From a Broken Heart

Debbie Reynolds passed away from a stroke one day after the death of her beloved daughter. Could a broken heart have been the cause?

You have probably heard someone suggest that another person they know passed away from a broken heart. When someone passes away soon after the death of a loved one, such as a spouse or child, it is common to say that the death was caused by a broken heart.

The death of Debbie Reynolds, only one day after the death of her daughter, has quickly been attributed to the phenomenon. However, some people doubt whether there is any such thing in reality or if it is just a common myth.

It can actually happen, according to FOX News in “Debbie Reynolds’ death: Can you die of a broken heart?”

After an acute stressor, such as the death of a loved one, it is possible for part of a person’s heart to become enlarged and to stop pumping properly. The rest of the heart will continue to function normally and might compensate for the enlarged portion by working harder. This can lead to heart attacks or strokes, which can cause death.

The phenomenon is known as Broken Heart Syndrome, although there is also a Latin name that textbooks use.

The syndrome normally only occurs in people who have previously had some sort of heart difficulty. Since that includes many elderly people, whether they are aware of it or not, it is important for estate attorneys, elder law advocates and family members to be aware of the syndrome.

Make sure that an elderly person who has lost a loved one has the care and support they need, so they do not suffer from broken heart syndrome.

Reference: FOX News (Dec. 30, 2016) “Debbie Reynolds’ death: Can you die of a broken heart?”

Suing a Trust in Federal Court

It is sometimes beneficial to bring a lawsuit in federal court instead of a state court. One example would be if you want to sue a trust and fear that the state courts will have prejudice for a home state trust.

Trusts are ordinarily a matter of state law. They are created under the laws of a state. That would normally mean that to sue the trust, you have to go to the courts of the state it was created in. However, there are times when it might be better to sue a trust in federal court.

This might happen if the plaintiff is from out of state and has a legitimate fear that the state courts will favor the trust and its local trustees.
The Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog wrote about one such case in “Trustee Citizenship Regulates Federal Diversity Jurisdiction.”

The plaintiff was a citizen of Taiwan suing a trust that her ex-spouse set up. She was seeking to recover assets from it. While it is not clear why she did not want to sue in state court, she did choose to file suit in federal court.

However, federal courts have limited jurisdiction. Not every case can be heard in federal court.

One way to get jurisdiction in federal court is called diversity jurisdiction. In order for it to apply, the plaintiff and the defendants have to be residents of different states or countries. In this case, the court decided that diversity jurisdiction was appropriate because the trust was a traditional trust not capable of suing or being sued on its own.

The citizenship of the defendants was thus the home states of the trustees.

Reference: Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog (Dec. 14, 2016) “Trustee Citizenship Regulates Federal Diversity Jurisdiction.”

Remarriage Planning

Before you get remarried late in your life you should do some estate planning.

People who are at or near retirement age are getting remarried more often than ever before. Most elder advocates think it is a wonderful thing that people are finding love and comfort late in their lives.

However, there is a potential problem.

Not enough older people getting remarried are properly planning for what doing so will mean for their families and estates. Without proper planning things can quickly go awry as New Hampshire Magazine reports in “Navigating Late-Life Remarriage.”

The biggest problem is that people do not take the time to consider what a second marriage might mean for their children’s ability to receive an inheritance. Children from an earlier marriage can be left out of an estate entirely without planning.

By default, a person’s entire estate goes to a living spouse. It cannot be assumed that the spouse will make plans to leave anything inherited for stepchildren in his or her estate. There is no legal obligation for the spouse to do so and the law will not give the money to those children if the spouse passes away without an estate plan.

This, of course, does not mean that someone should not get remarried late in life. It just means that some planning needs to take place before doing so.

Before getting remarried visit an estate planning attorney who can assist with the proper legal plans to make sure your children are protected.

Reference: New Hampshire Magazine (Dec. 2016) “Navigating Late-Life Remarriage.”

It Is Time to Review Your Estate Plan

You should review your estate plan anytime something significant changes that could have an impact on your plans. That means that you should be reviewing it now.
Some things do get better with age. However, unlike fine wine and good cheese, estate plans do not improve after aging.

An estate plan can be viewed as a snapshot of a person’s financial and life situation at the moment the plan is made. When something changes in a person’s financial or life situation the snapshot is no longer an accurate representation. If the change was significant enough, then the estate plan itself could be ineffective.

For this reason, estate planning attorneys suggest that their clients review their estate plans every few years to make sure the plans are still good. Another reason to review estate plans is when there have been legal changes that could affect the plans.

Recent Treasury Department regulatory changes make it likely that your plan needs review as Wealth Management points out in “Remind Clients Importance of Updating Estate Plans.”

Take some time to review your estate plan.

Make sure that it still does everything that you want it to do. Ask yourself if there have been any changes to your life and finances that are not reflected in your plan. Then, call your estate planning attorney and ask about any legal changes that have been enacted since you made your estate plan.

Once you are done with that and have an idea what needs to be changed in your estate plan, go to and have the changes made by your attorney.

Reference: Wealth Management (Nov. 21, 2016) “Remind Clients Importance of Updating Estate Plans.”

Prince Record Label Sues Jay-Z

As expected the dispute between Prince’s estate and Jay Z has resulted in a lawsuit.

How Prince’s estate will manage to pay its hefty estate tax bill has been a source of much speculation. It was assumed that one way to do so would be to sell the rights to Prince’s unreleased recordings. Rapper Jay Z had offered a reported $40 million for those rights. However, the estate turned that offer down and it has come up with a possibly different answer.

It can raise money by suing Jay Z, as it hinted it might do in a statement made after rejecting Jay Z’s offer.
Through Prince’s record label a lawsuit has been filed against Jay Z’s company Roc Nation, according to TMZ in “Prince to Jay Z No Free Rides in My Little Red Corvette … Record Label Sues.”

The lawsuit alleges that prior to his death, Prince had negotiated a deal with Jay Z to allow Jay Z to stream Prince’s last album on the Tidal service, which Jay Z owns through Roc Nation. However, instead of just streaming that album, Jay Z assumed that he had permission to stream all of Prince’s music and in June of this year began streaming all of Prince’s best-known songs.

The lawsuit does not state the amount of damages that the record label is seeking, but it is likely to be extremely high given the popularity of Prince’s music.

This is a case that both copyright attorneys and estate planning attorneys will keep a close eye on. The latter will be interested to learn if it sheds some light on how Prince’s estate plans to pay estate taxes.

Reference: TMZ (Nov. 15, 2016) “Prince to Jay Z No Free Rides in My Little Red Corvette … Record Label Sues.”