There have been several pieces written about famous estate planning mistakes over the years. I recently came across the review of a book chronicling the top ten. Trial & Heirs, was penned by probate litigator Andrew W. Mayoras and his lawyer wife, Danielle B. Mayoras. The pair considers the following flubs the top ten most notorious:
- Jimmy Hendrix died without a will or trust. Under the laws of intestacy, his father inherited his estate rather than his close friend/brother. Hendrix’s father proceeded to cut the brother out of his own estate.
- Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger typed his own 176 word will. As a result, his family paid over $400,000 in taxes and court involvement was required for the accomplishment of the smallest administrative task.
- Princess Di left a will naming her mother and sister as executors. She also left a ‘letter of wishes’ asking that her belongings be divided between her sons and 17 godchildren in the executor’s discretion. Each godchild received little of nothing.
- At Heath Ledger’s death, the will in place left his estate to his parents and sister. He did not update his estate plan after he established a committed relationship with Michelle Williams or after the birth of their daughter.
- Tobacco heiress Doris Duke left her butler as executor of her estate and trustee of a huge charitable foundation. After his actions were called into question, a lengthy court battle ensued. A settlement was eventually reached and the foundation was ordered to be managed by a board of trustees.
- Marlon Brando made an oral promise to give his home and provide continued employment to the head of his household staff. He claimed that the home remained in his name for tax purposes. A settlement was eventually reached- the head of staff received $125,000 in lieu of the home.
- Florence Griffith Joyner (FloJo) did not tell anyone where her original will was located. Her husband did not find it within California’s 30 day time period to file with the court. A battle between the husband and FloJo’s mother ensued and a third party was ordered to administer the estate.
- Leona Helmsley left $12 million to her dog while completely cutting out two of her four grandchildren. The disinherited grandchildren challenged Helmsley’s competency were awarded several million dollars.
- Socialite Brooke Astor’s son was her power of attorney prior to her death. After her death, he paid himself a $1 million dollar retroactive raise for managing her financial affairs. He faced criminal charges.
- Baseball legend Ted Williams left a will stating his wish to be cremated. One of his children produced a note outlining his wish to be put in biostasis. A legal challenge was mounted and fought until it became too expensive to maintain.
There are several lessons in these famous flubs. The first being that your wishes should be memorialized, preferably with the assistance of an experienced Estate Planning attorney.
Contributed by MH Phoenix Attorney Andrea Claus.
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