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Estate planning: The famous are not blameless

On Behalf of | Jan 3, 2013 | Estate Planning |

Everyday people are not the only ones who fail to plan future strategies for their assets. Famous people with great wealth including musicians and reclusive billionaires have been guilty of inadequate estate planning.

A past skiing accident caused the death of a man known for his political clout in California almost as much as he was recognized as the ex-husband of singer Cher. Sonny Bono died with no will or trust. Bono’s failure to plan placed his $1.7 million estate in the hands of a probate court. The three-time married politician left behind a complex and family struggle for his assets.

One of the wealthiest people ever to ignore estate planning needs was Howard Hughes. Hughes was worth $2.5 billion at the time of his death in 1976, a respectable sum even by today’s standards. Hughes had no will. Shortly after the aviator’s death, a mysterious handwritten will was found in a church office. The will was eventually discredited. The Hughes fortune took more than three decades to settle. In the end, billions were divided among 22 relatives.

Funk musician James Brown was guilty of procrastination. The singer had hoped to improve the lives of impoverished children through a $100 million trust. What the “Godfather of Soul” didn’t anticipate was the legal tug-of-war that would ensue among family members. The singer had at least three wives and nine sons. The last woman in Brown’s life claimed to be his fourth wife with Brown’s tenth son. The self-proclaimed widow and her child were not mentioned in James Brown’s will. The will had not been updated since before the couple’s marriage.

Never created and outdated legal documents are estate planning mistakes common to the great and humble and the rich and poor. Poor financial planning and updating can force estates of every size into probate, where court fights and expenses can quickly deplete assets meant for heirs.

Source: wealthmanagement.com, “Lessons of the Rich and Famous . . . in Death,” Jim Moniz, Dec. 24, 2012