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Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

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Friday, January 27, 2012

Celebrity Estate Planning Lessons

Etta JamesAs I previously blogged, singer Etta James passed away this month at age 73. The estate planning aftermath of James’  passing, along with the estate planning aftermaths of other celebrity deaths, illustrate many estate planning needs attorneys should discuss with their clients. Five ways James’ and other celebrities’ stories shed light on ways estate planners can help their clients are below:

  • Talk with Clients About Creating an Estate Plan Now
    • James had suffered from numerous illnesses prior to passing, but many individuals’ deaths are much more sudden. For instance, Canadian Olympic skier Sarah Burke was only 29 when she recently passed away from injuries sustained in a freak skiing accident. Attorneys should speak with clients about ceasing the estate planning procrastination because death can come suddenly and it is best to be prepared.
  • Discuss Medical and Financial Decision-Maker Appointments
    • During James’ last year of life, her sons and husband began battling over conservatorship of the singer’s estate. A few weeks ago, the family was able to resolve their issues, and James’ husband was declared her conservator with control limited to $350,000 for her medical care. Britney Spears’ father recently stated that he intends to ask the court to terminate the medical/non-financial portion of Spears’ conservatorship to allow Spears to marry without restriction. Attorneys should discuss powers of attorney and living will documents with clients. Without these documents, a client’s family will not have the right to make medical or financial decisions in the event the client suffers a serious medical condition or accident.
  • Remind Clients to Update Wills, Trusts, and Other Legal Documents
    • Heidi Klum and Seal’s recent divorce announcement is a good reminder that clients should update their estate planning documents following life altering events like a divorce, death, or birth. When author Michael Crichton died of throat cancer, his wife was six months pregnant. Chrichton failed to update his estate planning documents to include the child, and a lawsuit between his adult daughter from a previous marriage and the surviving wife erupted regarding whether the baby could inherit. The judge ruled that the baby was entitled to share in the inheritance, but proper estate plan updating could have avoided the suit all together.
  •  Organize Your Clients' Affairs
    • Clients should inform family members where their estate planning documents are located. An estate planning organizer can help clients list out their legal and financial documents, along with any of assets that possess. During the recent Italian cruise ship disaster, reports surfaced of many passengers calling loved one to ensure that children would be cared for and to disclose where wills and other important documents were located. Clients should not wait for a tragic event to take place to tell loved ones where important information can be located. 
  • Persuade Clients to Discuss Their Estate Plan With Loved Ones
    • Clients can help eliminate some, if not all, future estate planning battles by simply discussing their estate plans with loved ones. Talking with loved ones can also ensure that those left behind will be able to located important documents and critical information.  

See Danielle and Andy Mayoras, Etta James Saga—Among Others—Illustrates Need for Thoughtful Estate Planning, On Wall Street, Jan. 24, 2012.

Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse (Professional Legal Marketing (PLM, Inc.)) for bringing this article to my attention.

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