Whether your estate is modest or movie star worthy, the value of a good estate plan, properly handled, cannot be underestimated. A comprehensive plan can mean the difference between an expensive and unnecessary “time spent in court headache” for your loved ones or an easy “in your lawyer’s office” transition that allows your family time to grieve in peace.
When a high profile celebrity passes away, we can learn a lot about the value of careful planning when using their estate plan as a case study.
Carrie Fisher is one of the celebrities whose proactive, yet faulty, planning gives us an excellent example to illustrate some key points that are important for you to understand for your family.
Even though Carrie Fisher worked with some of the best (read: most expensive) lawyers in Los Angeles, and she had created a trust to hold her assets, her estate plan failed, in our opinion, because it didn’t keep her assets out of court and passing privately to her heir, Billie Catherine Lourd.
Instead, Fisher’s lawyer created a trust, and never ensured Fisher’s assets were transferred into the trust. And while you may think this is malpractice on the lawyer’s part, it’s actually common practice. We see this all the time when clients come to us with prior prepared estate plans — they’ve got beautiful documents that will not work when their families need them because their assets were never properly inventoried and transferred. Fisher’s death brings this major issue in estate planning to light. As a result, Fisher’s trustee, Dennis King, had to file a petition in probate court seeking to have Fisher’s assets transferred into her trust.
The whole point of creating a trust is to keep your family out of court and keep your affairs totally private.
Because Fisher’s trust was not properly funded (the legal terminology for making sure your assets are transferred into trust so you can keep everything private and out of court), all of her assets and who will receive them have been made public.
As a result, we know that Fisher left her estate to her daughter, Billie Lourd, and that it included cash accounts, several LLCs, real estate, a life insurance policy, personal belongings, and intellectual property rights. Having this information public leaves Lourd at risk. Unscrupulous parties now have access to details they wouldn’t otherwise know.
This is exactly why a key part of a good estate planning process is a thorough inventory of your assets, ensuring your assets are transferred into your trust (if you choose to keep your family out of court) and then a review of your assets and planning documents at least every three years, if not annually.
Proper estate planning can keep your family out of court and save your family precious time and money in the process, but only if you follow through.
Jeff Berenholz is an estate planning attorney in Beachwood, Ohio. He is a dad and a husband, and is committed to educating families with young children about the importance of proper estate planning. Jeff’s goal is not just to draft documents; he ensures you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. If you’d like more information or you’d like to schedule a complimentary Family Wealth Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love, please email [email protected], call (216) 766-5766 or visit www.jeffblaw.com.