LESSON 1. Plan Now. Rest In Peace Later.
Accidents and illnesses can strike at any time and at any age. While it’s easy to procrastinate and avoid taking care of estate planning matters like drafting a will, trust or power of attorney, the consequences can be devastating. Consider Bob Marley who passed away in May of 1981 without a will and whose heirs fought over his estate for over 3 decades!
Stieg Larsson “Played with Fire” by not drafting a Will to distribute his assets. Stieg Larsson, best-selling author of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the accompanying sequels, achieved global success through his novels and a Hollywood movie adaptation that grossed over $150 million worldwide. Larsson was never married and had no children. He had been living with his girlfriend of over 30 years when he unexpectedly died of a heart attack at age 50, without ever drafting a will. Larsson left behind a sizable fortune including additional unpublished manuscripts, sparking a lawsuit between his girlfriend and his family, who legally inherit his estate. Larsson’s girlfriend refuses to turn over a laptop, which she claims they shared, containing the unpublished fourth manuscript sequel, potentially worth millions of dollars. As in most states in the United States, Sweden does not recognize inheritance rights for common-law spouses where there is no will. Unfortunately, Larsson’s estate has turned into a “he said – she said” battle with no end in sight. No one will know for sure who Larsson would have wanted to inherit his fortune and manage his literary legacy. One thing’s for certain – his assets will be severely diminished due to the fighting. (Keep in mind in the U.S., most fees associated with litigation over an Estate are paid directly from the Estate).
If Sonny Bono could “Turn Back Time,” he would have drafted a Will to prevent everyone from fighting for a “cher” of his assets. Sonny Bono had a successful and diverse career, first in music then in politics, but despite all of this, he neglected to establish a basic will or trust to provide for his family in the event of his death. Sonny died tragically in a skiing accident leaving his third wife Mary, and two minor children to deal with a messy probate estate. When an individual dies without a will, state law provides how an individual’s assets should be distributed. In this case, state law provided that the estate would be distributed first to the surviving spouse, regardless of the individual’s wishes. Because Sonny never drafted a will specifying where and how his estate would be handled, Mary needed specific permission from the court to administer almost every aspect of his estate, including gaining access to certain music rights. Mary also had to defend the estate from claims from Cher, who felt she was still owed money from the divorce, and an alleged illegitimate child who wanted a share of the estate.
Lesson: You’ve worked hard during your lifetime to amass your own personal fortune – make sure that its protected from fighting heirs and distributed according to your wishes by working with an experienced attorney to draft estate planning documents.
Follow along in our Four-Part Series! Check out all of the parts below!
Part 4 HERE!
Part 3 HERE!
Part 2 HERE!
Part 1 HERE!