Actress Brittany Murphy died tragically at age 32 a few months ago. Within a day of her passing, celebrity website TMZ reported that Murphy failed to update her will after her marriage to Simon Monjack, her husband of 2 1/2 years. Instead, her will left everything to her mother. The Probate Lawyer Blog's article about it reminded people that updating wills and trusts after important life changes, like a marriage, is very important . . . even for 32-year olds.
TMZ is now reporting that, according to Monjack, the story wasn't entirely accurate. While she did have a prior handwritten will naming her mother as her beneficiary, Murphy did update her estate plan after her marriage, complete with a will and trust. Monjack said he asked Murphy to include a provision stating "I am married to Simon Monjack who I have intentionally left out of this will."
That provision was important because, without it, Monjack may still have inherited some of her assets as a "pretermitted spouse". By specifically mentioning and disinheriting her husband, Murphy made sure that her estate went to only to her mother. This language was critical to make sure her wishes were followed (rather than those of the State of California).
With so many examples of celebrity estate planning gone wrong, which we cover extensively in our book, "Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights!", it's refreshing to see a story of someone who did it right. "Trial & Heirs" discusses celebrity errors to show you what not to do when planning for your heirs. But, you can also learn from celebrities like Brittany Murphy who do the proper estate planning.
So what did Murphy do right?
- She worked with an attorney to create a formal will and trust, rather than relying on a handwritten will;
- She used a trust, rather than just a will, to avoid probate court (that is, if she properly "funded" the trust during her life);
- She communicated with her loved ones about her intent and where to find her documents, so there wasn't confusion and dissension after she passed;
- She updated her documents after getting married; and
- She used specific language to make sure her money passed to her mother and not her husband.
Posted by: Andrew W. Mayoras & Danielle B. Mayoras, co-authors of Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights! and co-founders of The Center for Probate Litigation and The Center for Elder Law in metro-Detroit, Michigan, which concentrate in probate litigation, estate planning, and elder law. Andrew & Danielle are husband and wife attorneys, professional speakers and consultants across the country.Follow us on Google+