Estate Planning: Celebrity Edition
All adults should have basic estate planning documents. Estate planning is about ensuring your wishes are honored upon your death or incapacitation. If you’re thinking, “I don’t need to worry about this because I’m single/don’t have children”, you may have other loved ones who are relying on you. Some examples include:
- Aging parents
- A niece or nephew
- Pets: your cat, dog, or other beloved animal
Estate Planning 101
An estate plan contains three key documents (the fourth is optional):
You want to name a trusted friend or family member in each of these documents to honor your wishes. You can
select the same person to fulfill all of the roles. Talk to the person and make sure he or she is willing to
serve before you start drafting your documents.
Celebrity Examples: Learn From Their Mistakes
Since it isn’t fun to discuss death or incapacity, I like to give celebrity examples when I talk about estate planning with my clients.
Health Care Document: Tim Conway
Tim Conway of The Carol Burnett Show died in May 2019 after a long illness. In the last year of his life, Conway was allegedly unable to make his own health care decisions. His wife and a daughter from a previous marriage battled publicly over his care. They reached a resolution in the end. But I’m sure each would have preferred spending more time with their husband/father rather than fighting in court. Tim Conway could have avoided the family acrimony altogether if he had a Health Care Document that clearly stated his end-of-life wishes, and named his health care agent.
Prince died three years ago without a will. But the battle over his estate continues. Prince’s situation isn’t uncommon as six in ten adults don’t have a will. Most Americans who die without a will, however, don’t leave behind vast and complex estates. He likely was worth hundreds of millions of dollars when he died. A will alone wouldn’t have hastened the estate settlement process. But a will plus a trust would have protected Prince’s privacy, and he would have had ultimate control over Paisley Park, his vault of music, and other important assets.
Power of Attorney: Britney Spears
Britney Spears had a series of public mental health crises in the late 2000s. In 2008, her father was appointed as her conservator. This means her father has the legal authority to make all decisions about her finances and health. The process of requesting conservatorship requires going to court, and it is likely an expensive and stressful court process. A Power of Attorney (also known as Financial Power of Attorney) document is much cheaper to set up. Spears has been in the news recently, asking a judge to end her conservatorship.
Will (But No Trust): Jerry Lewis
Comedian Jerry Lewis died in 2017. He had a complicated personal life with children from multiple marriages, and an illegitimate child. Jerry Lewis’ will allegedly excluded his children from the first marriage, and ignored his illegitimate child altogether. If he truly wished to leave his entire estate to his second wife and daughter from that marriage, he would have been better off setting up a trust. His celebrity, wealth, and children from multiple relationships were invitations for potential conflict. A trust would have protected his privacy because a trust avoids probate, a court process which is public record. A trust becomes irrevocable upon death, but a will can be contested in court. His children have the legal right to contest his will, and the executor of his estate (likely his second wife) could face years of court battles and family infighting.
Let People Know Where to Find Your Documents
Let your future executor and Power of Attorneys know where to find the original documents. If you have a financial planner, provide your planner’s contact information.
You can also prepare letters of instruction for the trusted person(s). These letters can include details like:
- Where to find online passwords for financial accounts.
- The location of bank and investment accounts.
- Detailed instructions on caring for surviving pets.
- At a bare minimum, set up your advance health care directive.
- Also set up your will, and financial power of attorney.
- A trust may make sense if you want ultimate control.
- Don’t forget your pets!
- To learn more, download the full guide: The Single Professional Woman’s Personal Finance Guide: Common Blind Spots That Could Cost You (Now or Later).