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Celebrity Legacies: Elizabeth Taylor's Estate Sets Gold Standard

Elizabeth Taylor is known for many things: her successful acting career, recognition as perhaps the ultimate icon of Hollywood glitz and glamour, standing up as a champion for AIDS research, her popular perfume, and, of course, her string of failed marriages.  Elizabeth_Taylor

Failed nuptials aside, almost everything Liz Taylor touched turned to gold.  But what about her estate? Did she prepare her estate with the same high standards as the rest of her life?

This is installment #11 of our Estate Planning Lessons From The Stars series, which is based on the Celebrity Legacies TV show for which we provide commentary as the estate legal experts. See other articles in the series here.

Despite early reports that Taylor's family may fight over her estate, her estate has been just the opposite:  peaceful.  No probate filing, no copies of her will or trust published on the web, and no court battles.

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Oscar Winners Teach Five Lessons On Estate Planning

The 2014 Oscars are complete.  Trial & Heirs looks back at past Oscar winners like Philip Seymour Hoffman, Elizabeth Taylor, Heath Ledger, Frank Sinatra, and Marlon Brando.  Their estates illustrate important estate planning lessons that everyone can benefit from — even those who aren’t walking the red carpet at the Oscars.  

1. Philip Seymour Hoffman Estate Planning Lesson:  You Can Be Creative With Your Will or Trust

There were many mistakes and pitfalls with Philip Seymour Hoffman’s estate (including no estate tax planning and his failure to use a revocable living trust, as we discuss in our article).  But, Hoffman — whose portrayal of Capote earned him the Best Actor Oscar in 2006 — didn’t do everything wrong. Oscars_hoffman-237x300

He gets credit for a key component of estate planning that many people overlook: creativity.  Estate planning is not meant to be “fill in the blank” or “one-size fits all.”  You can use your will or trust to pass along your goals, values and moral beliefs.  Most people think wills and trusts only pass along assets to the next generation, but they can do so much more.

Hoffman’s will highlights this.  He included language in his will to express his strong desire that his son be raised in Manhattan, Chicago, or San Francisco, or at least visit one of those cities twice each year, to be exposed to the culture, arts and architecture that those cities offer.   Hoffman could have taken it a step further, especially through a well-drafted trust, but we applaud the late actor for thinking outside the box.

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Will Elizabeth Taylor's Family Fight Over Her Fortune?

Widely recognized as one of the best and most popular actresses of all times, Elizabeth Taylor’s death this week at the age of 79 caused great sadness throughout Hollywood — and indeed the whole world. Given her success, both on the screen and off, perhaps it should be no surprise that Elizabeth Taylor’s fortune has just been estimated to be worth as much as one billion dollars.   Liz Taylor

Why so much? Certainly movie royalties alone could not account for that kind of value in her estate. Instead, as ABC News recently reported, her perfume and other business ventures were groundbreaking and highly profitable.

The ABC News article also included portions of an interview with both of us, in which we addressed what one would expect in terms of estate planning for a person of such great wealth and fame. But, as we explained in the interview, there are many examples of wealthy Hollywood celebrities who pass away with very poor estate planning, or no planning at all.

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