Well it’s not too late to help your clients tackle a very important resolution that up to two-thirds of adults in our country ignore — estate planning. That’s right, it’s the topic no one likes to think about, but everyone knows they should take care of … wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and more.
Your clients don’t have to be intimidated by it! In fact, celebrity stories are a great way to break the ice to remind everyone of what they need to do.
So, with the help of some recent stories in the news, here are Trial & Heirs: New Years Estate Planning Resolutions for 2012, for you to share with your clients. (Also, we recently gave an interview discussing some of these stories, which you can watch here).
1. Help Clients Plan Now and Stop Procrastinating.
R&B legend Etta James was 72 when she passed away last week, after suffering from leukemia, dementia and other problems. Canadian Olympic skier Sarah Burke was only 29 when she died recently from injuries in a freak skiing accident, despite being one of the top athletes in the world. It’s a sad reality that accidents and serious medical conditions can affect any of us, at any time. We all need to be prepared.
While it’s easy to procrastinate doing a will, trust or other legal document, the consequences can be devastating. Take author Stieg Larsson, whose Girl With The Dragon Tattoo book and sequels achieved global success. The recent Hollywood movie adaptation has grossed over $140 million worldwide since it was released a month ago.
Larsson died without even a will. This sparked a huge lawsuit between his live-in girlfriend of 32 years and his brother and father, whom the girlfriend claims were not close with Larsson. The family members inherited his now-vast estate (conservatively estimated at $40 million) and sued because the girlfriend has possession of a laptop with an unpublished fourth manuscript. You can read about the Larsson Estate lawsuit here, which remains unresolved.
Larsson died unexpectedly at the age of 50 from a heart attack. His procrastination with his estate planning means he did not get to decide whether his girlfriend or his family members inherited his estate.
Don’t let your clients make the same mistake with their estates. They’ve worked hard their entire lives; shouldn’t they decide who receives what, when, and how? No one should procrastinate and let the laws in the state they live in determine who receives their property after they pass away.
2. Clients Should Appoint Medical and Financial Decision-Makers.
Etta James’ final year of life was marred by controversy, between her husband of 42 years and her two adult sons from prior relationships. Her 2008 power of attorney gave legal authority to one of her sons, but her husband claimed it was signed after James already had dementia and was not competent. They fought in court over who would make her financial and medical decisions, and even how much money her husband would be allowed to have to pay for her care. You can read our Etta James lawsuit article here.
Luckily, the family reached a resolution a few weeks ago, around the time James’ illness was declared terminal. The settlement allowed her husband to make her medical and financial decisions as her conservator (called guardian in some states), but only permitted him to control $350,000 for her medical care.
Britney Spears is also under conservatorship, despite being much younger than James … or indeed, the large majority of adults who have conservators or guardians. Just recently, her father announced that he was going to ask the court to terminate the medical/non-financial part of her conservatorship so she could get married without restriction. Reportedly, he will hang onto the financial control. We have written before that the reasons for this are suspect, and may be for the purpose of insulating Spears from lawsuits.