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Estate Planning Lessons From Hollywood

Take away the glitz and glamor of Hollywood, and celebrities are not unlike you. However, there are very few things that set celebrities apart from others, including the size of their estates. Celebrities often have much to protect, which is why estate planning is critical.

Many celebrities don’t take the time to work with an estate planning attorney to plan for the future properly. In situations like these, there are many lessons to learn. 

Create an Estate Plan

For some celebrities, having an estate plan isn’t a priority. When they pass away, their families are often left to deal with the stress and confusion.

Bob Marley, Amy Winehouse, and Prince are among the long list of celebrities who died without wills or estate plans. This resulted in several long, ugly battles over their estates. Bob Marley’s family was even filing lawsuits against one another three decades after his death. 

On the other hand, celebrities who do establish proper estate plans successfully leave a legacy for their heirs every day. While you’ll never hear about these important but not-buzzworthy success stories in celebrity news, there are a few interesting cases that are worth mentioning.

Dog lovers will appreciate this one: Eleanor Ritchey, heiress of the Quaker State Refining Company, was denied a pet dog as a child. In a move of amusing rebellion, she left a $4.5 million fortune to over 150 dogs when she passed away in 1968.

In an example that has nothing to do with tangible property — but a touching story nonetheless — Robert Louis Stevenson bequeathed his birthday to a U.S. senator’s daughter who was born on Christmas and felt cheated out of a “real birthday.” The legality of this move is questionable, but it’s a good example of the impact you can make with a thoughtful estate plan.

The lesson? Create an estate plan. It will give you immense peace of mind, and your family and heirs will thank you. 

Put Your Desires in Writing

A promise and a handshake may work for certain things, but not for anything legal. 

Marlon Brando allegedly told his housekeeper she would inherit his home after his passing. Because this promise was not reflected in his estate plan, she was denied the property. This resulted in a lawsuit against his estate, which she later settled (for money, not the home). 

The lesson? Put everything in writing in your estate planning documents. Verbal promises don’t hold any legal weight. 

Start Planning Early

Many believe estate planning is only for older individuals or people with significant assets. In reality, any adult can create an estate plan, regardless of financial circumstances. 

Aaron Carter, who died at 34, did not have an estate plan. This is unfortunate, as he had a young son, a fiancée, and a family who were left to deal with the challenges of a loved one dying intestate. 

The lesson? No matter your age or financial status, start planning for your future early.

Be Specific

A strong estate plan rests upon specificity. You should try to avoid any ambiguity, as it could result in unneeded struggles. 

When Audrey Hepburn passed away, she left behind a storage locker full of costumes, scripts, and other memorabilia from her time as a movie star. In her will, she simply stated the contents should be distributed equally between her two sons. Unfortunately, they couldn’t agree on a fair split, leading to a courtroom battle.

The lesson? Be specific in your estate plan. While it may not seem necessary, it can save your loved ones the headache. 

Review and Update Your Estate Plan Regularly 

Once you make an estate plan, don’t throw it in a drawer and forget about it. Wills and other estate planning documents need regular updating.

This was the issue in Heath Ledger’s case. While he had an estate plan, he hadn’t updated it in several years, even after the birth of his only child. Therefore, at his passing, his entire fortune went to his parents and sister, and nothing was left for his daughter. 

Fortunately, his parents vowed to share their inheritance with Matilda, but if they weren’t so generous, this could have caused unnecessary problems. 

The lesson? Take time to regularly go over your estate plan and make any needed changes. Significant life events, like births, deaths, marriages, and divorces, should prompt you to modify your documents. 

Don’t Do It Yourself

Finally, you should never make your estate plan yourself. Former Supreme Court Justice Warren Burger died with a self-made will of only 76 words, riddled with mistakes. This created avoidable issues, even costing his estate additional taxes.

The lesson? Always get a qualified estate planning attorney to handle your estate planning needs.

Get Help From An Experienced Estate Planning Attorney

The estate planning attorneys at OC Wills and Trusts proudly serve clients throughout Orange County, CA, and the surrounding areas. Contact our firm today to get started on effectively protecting your legacy. 

Brian Chew, the managing partner of OC Wills & Trust Attorneys, has extensive experience in the areas of estate planning, asset protection planning, business succession planning, long-term care planning, and veterans’ benefits. By devoting his practice to estate planning matters, he has founded a firm that strives to provide exceptional service to their clients by working closely with individuals and their families to create comprehensive and customized estate plans. For the past twenty five years, Brian has served thousands of clients in the matters of estate planning, wills and trusts. If you have any questions about this article, you can reach Brian Chew here.