Learning from celebrity estate plans

When a loved one dies, the family might be in shock as they process the death of their family member, and even the rich and famous are not exempt. In some cases, specific examples provide others in New Jersey and across the nation with important insights into what course of action to take related to financial matters, estate planning and establishing a trust.

In June 2013, actor James Gandolfini suddenly passed away at the age of 51. He left an estate of an estimated $75 million and an only partially completed estate plan without a trust. After his sudden death, his estate ended up in probate and in the middle of the public eye. His failure to properly plan meant that more than half of his estate went to taxes and fees. Onlookers learned a valuable lesson about the need for proper estate planning strategies.

The death of Heath Ledger at age 28 sent shock waves through the media and his many fans. He was survived by his girlfriend and a young daughter, but unfortunately, he left an outdated estate plan without a trust to provide for his child. His money instead went to his parents and siblings under the terms of the existing will.

Michael Jackson's death also surprised many in the entertainment industry and fans around the globe. Although he left a solid estate plan in place, he failed to transfer assets to a trust that he had established. This oversight resulted in an expensive and public probate process, and much of his personal information was splashed across the media and tabloids.

Wealth and fame doesn't prevent professionals from making mistakes with their finances, especially in failing to plan for their heirs. After the loss of a loved one, the family wants to know that financial matters have been handled. An estate planning attorney can help clients ensure that their financial wishes are carried out after their death.

Source: North Bay Business Journal, "Celebrity estate plans, the good, bad and ugly", Emily Menjou, Jan. 26, 2015

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