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What dead celebrities can teach us about estate planning. April 21, 2017

O'Fallon, O'Fallon
 What dead celebrities can teach us about estate planning., O'Fallon, Missouri

It is interesting how the common estate planning mistakes of average citizens are so often replicated, involving significantly greater problems, in celebrity situations.  Celebrities, like the rest of us, die without a proper in inadequate estate plan in place.  In the case of a celebrity, the media highlights these cases. We can learn from these examples and mistakes, such as the case of Prince dying without a Will.  I discuss below some of the mistakes and what you can do to have the correct estate plan in place for your family and heirs.


Prince is not alone. Abraham Lincoln Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, and Pablo Picaso died without Wills.  According to AARP, only 17% of Americans over age 50 have a current will and durable power of attorney. 

Estate planning applies to everyone, not just the wealthy. The tragedy of failing to plan properly is not visited upon the dead. It is the living that suffer the unexpected and unforgiving consequences.  More couples are putting off marriage yet living together, and raising children born outside of marriage. Failing to have an estate plan, even a simple will, can be overwhelming on the remaining families of both individuals involved.  In Missouri, intestacy provides that each child and the surviving spouse will inherit an equal percentage.  With minor children, handling the assets is made even more difficult as a minor cannot contract to sell or encumber property.  Establishing a trust for the children before they reach age eighteen can provide the remaining family members the comfort of being able to handle the assets, particularly in the case where an ex-spouse is involved.

Guardian of Minors.  In Missouri, the probate judge in the county of residence of your minor children will have the authority to appoint a guardian for the children. Without a Will or statement from the deceased regarding choice of guardian for minor children, the probate court is without insight and will have to make an independent judgment, based upon the family members who request guardianship. Do you really want your children raised in the home of your alcoholic brother-in-law?

Do your friends, and especially your family, a favor and prepare a Will and powers of attorney now, not later.

THE ONLY TWO CERTAINTIES IN LIFE ARE DEATH AND TAXES, as stated by Benjamin Franklin.  Be aware of how true this statement is today.

Dealing with estate tax returns can be tricky and is even more complicated without having a proper estate plan in place.  The IRS routinely audits estate tax returns. Be prepared for death and taxes.


AARP reports that only 45% of Americans over the age of 50 have executed a durable general power of attorney.  Only 29% of Americans are estimated to have a medical directive.  U.S. residents are also living longer. The current average life expectancy is around age 79.  

The aging population is also getting less competent. There is an increase in the occurrence of Alzheimer’s and Dementia.  Having a medical directive and general durable power of attorney are essential documents for all adults, regardless of age.  Call our office to speak to us about putting together an estate plan that includes these documents.


So what are the ultimate take-aways from this examination of celebrity decision making?  Here are a few recommendations and issues you should consider for yourself and family members:

    -Having a Will or Will substitute, such as a Revocable Living Trust.
    -Having a Medical Directive, along with making sure there are Medical Directives for each adult child and living ancestor (great-grandmother?).
    -Having a General Durable Power of Attorney, and making sure there is one for each adult child and living ancestor.
    -Having proper beneficiaries of retirement plans and IRAs, naming primary and contingent beneficiaries.
    -Discussing with your attorney how to minimize the potential conflicts of passing your assets to certain heirs.
    -Having a schedule for disposing of tangible personal property, to the point of even stating, in the case of divorced clients, stating what assets pass to children from prior relationships.
     -Discussing with your attorney the rights and benefits of the surviving spouse, particularly in second and third marriages when there are children from prior marriages.
    -Remember to ask how to select the best decision makers in your documents, ie: guardians, trustees, personal representatives, along with the appointment of successors.

Now it is time to act.  Call David Schmidt at the Woodlawn Law Center, 636-240-6667, to schedule an appointment for making your estate plan. 

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