3 Estate Planning Lessons We Can Learn from Celebrities

Because certain details of celebrities’ lives (and deaths) are broadcast for all the world to see, the public can learn from their mistakes — including mistakes relating to estate planning.

With so much on the line, you would think that any celebrity would take proper care in planning for their eventual death and the future of their loved ones. However, a review of celebrity deaths and their estate planning habits will reveal that many celebrities drop the ball in this realm, frequently leaving their assets and loved ones in limbo. 

Here are three examples anyone can learn and benefit from.

Chadwick Boseman’s Estate Left No Will

If you have a will, the will must be tested in probate court, which can be a long process for celebrities with wealth. For this reason, many wealthy celebrities use trusts and pay-on-death (POD) and transfer-on-death (TOD) accounts, which pay beneficiaries account funds upon the death of the account holder.

For all other assets, probate is necessary. If there is no will to determine how these assets are to be settled, probate law will decide how to distribute them. Probate is frequently a bulky legal process that can take years. A decedent’s loved ones in these cases must wait long stretches of time to enjoy the assets left to them. 

Such is the case with the wife of Chadwick Boseman. The Black Panther star died without a will, which meant the laws of intestacy were left to decide. Although based on principles of fairness, the laws of intestacy (regardless of state) are at best cookie-cutter rules that are generally fair and at worst contrary to the wishes of the deceased. 

In this case, Boseman’s wife and parents ended up splitting the estate 50/50. Fortunately, there were no reports of infighting between the parties, which is the exception when a celebrity or anyone else with at least a few assets dies without a will. 

Heath Ledger and Outdated Beneficiaries

Circumstances change as we go through life. Estate planning documents should be updated to reflect these changes when necessary. Failure to do so could leave a loved one out in the cold.

This almost happened to Heath Ledger’s daughter, Matilda Rose. When the actor passed away in 2008, he had a will in place. However, the document did not name his then-two-year-old daughter as the beneficiary. Instead, his parents and three sisters were the named beneficiaries in the will that predated Matilda’s birth. 

Fortunately for Matilda, the parents and sisters gave her the entire $16 million estate, as they believed this was precisely what Mr. Ledger would have wanted.  

Tobacco Heiress Doris Duke and an Allegedly Unscrupulous Executor

Executors, guardians, and trustees have extensive decision-making powers over your assets and sometimes your loved ones. For this reason, only people of trust should be placed in these positions. 

Unfortunately for tobacco heiress Doris Duke, an unscrupulous executor is rumored to have taken advantage of her in her later years. He is alleged to have coerced her into giving up control of the billion-dollar estate and even to have helped her into the grave with morphine. 

Protect Your Estate and the Future of Your Loved Ones

You are in an advantageous position to learn from the mistakes of others and avoid potentially costly missteps. An estate planning attorney can help you create and execute an iron-clad estate plan that lets you decide what happens to your hard-earned assets and your children when you pass on.

Contact OC Wills & Trust Attorneys in Orange County, CA, to start planning or to renew plans for your estate. It’s never too early.