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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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Philip Seymour Hoffman's Will Highlights Four Planning Pitfalls

Oscar-winning actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman, died on February 2nd from a drug overdose.  Recently, his long-time girlfriend and mother of his three children, Marianne O’Donnell, filed to open Philip Seymour Hoffman’s estate and to probate his will.  While there are many lessons that can be drawn from his will, there are four main estate planning pitfalls that serve as important lessons:   Philip_seymour_hoffman

1.  Philip Seymour Hoffman Should Have Created A Revocable Living Trust.

The reason that Hoffman’s will is public and available for anyone to read (you can click here to read it for yourself), is because he relied on a will — and only a will — for his estate plan.  For most people with even a modest estate, revocable living trusts are critical.

Why?  When properly used, they help families avoid the costs, aggravation, and delays caused by the probate process.  Probate court proceedings are public record (meaning anyone can read the will — even your nosy neighbor!), and are expensive, difficult to maneuver without an attorney, and often are breeding grounds for family fights.

It's much better to work with an attorney to prepare a revocable living trust now, than for your loved ones to have to hire a probate lawyer later.

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Five Estate Planning Lessons From The Paul Walker Estate

Paul William Walker IV was the star of the Fast & Furious movies, until his unfortunate -- and ironic -- death in a high-speed car accident on November 30, 2013.  The car, in which Walker was a passenger, was found to have been doing at least 100 mph.  Walker was 40 years old when he died, survived by his parents and his 15-year old daughter, Meadow Rain Walker.  PaulWalker

Recently, Paul Walker's father filed to open the estate, including Walker's Last Will and Testament, which you can read here: Read Paul Walker's Will.  It sheds some interesting information about the Paul Walker Estate and highlights some valuable estate planning lessons.

First, the probate filing and will reveal that Walker had assets of about 25 million dollars, including 8 million in personal property (which would include cash and investments), $8.5 in expected income, and another $8.5 million in real estate (after subtracting mortgages).

Second, the filing shows that Walker had a revocable living trust, benefiting his daughter as the sole beneficiary.  Trusts, unlike wills, are private documents -- so we do not get to see the actual trust document.  The probate documents only reveal that the trust exists and that Meadow is the sole beneficiary of it.

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Farrah Fawcett Portrait Trial Ends In Favor Of Ryan O'Neal

Farrah Fawcett‘s estate planning wishes have been at the center of a number of lawsuits, as we describe in this article about Ryan O’Neal.  O’Neal was sued by the University of Texas, which claimed that he wrongfully removed the famed Andy Warhol Farrah Fawcett painting from her home after she died.  O’Neal defended himself, saying that this copy of the painting was his and he had permission to take it back after Fawcett died.   Farrah-Fawcett-by-Andy-Warhol1-300x300

The University of Texas disagreed, suing O’Neal back in 2011.  The University’s lawyers felt that, because Fawcett’s revocable living trust left all of her artwork to the University, it should be the rightful owner of the Farrah Fawcett paining, not O’Neal.  It turns out there were actually two copies of the famed portrait, and the University already received one of them.  But it sued O’Neal for the other one too.

The case proceeded to trial last month, lasting three weeks.  O’Neal called several witnesses, including former friends of Fawcett and her former caregiver, who all testified that the second copy of the painting belonged to O’Neal.  He testified that Warhol gave him the second copy, because he was the one who brokered the deal for the famous portrait to be made in the 1970′s.

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Casey Kasem’s Children and Wife Locked In Fight Over Conservatorship

For many years, kids across America listened to Casey Kasem, both as the legendary host of American Top 40 and as the voice to many cartoon characters including Shaggy of Scooby-Doo fame and Batman-sidekick Robin from Super Friends.  But now, his own kids say they don’t even get to listen to him — or even see him for that matter.  And it’s led to an ugly family feud in court.  Casey-Kasem

The 81-year old Casey Kasem suffers from advanced Parkinson’s disease and is essentially bedridden.  He cannot walk without assistance and may have diminished mental capacity.  His wife of more than 30 years, Jean, has barred Kasem’s children from his first marriage, and other friends and family members (such as his younger brother) from visiting or speaking with Kasem.

In order to pressure Jean to allow them to see Kasem, daughters Kerri Kasem and Julie Kasem, with more than a dozen friends and family members, held a protest in front of the Kasem home.  When that failed to convince Jean to change her mind, the daughters filed for conservatorship, in California.  A conservatorship court proceeding (called guardianship in some states) seeks to have an individual appointed to make decisions for someone who is not able to make proper decisions for himself, usually due to a medical condition like Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or Parkinson’s disease.

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Will Conservatorship Work for Amanda Bynes?

For months, Amanda Bynes has been like a runaway train charging out-of-control down the tracks.  Multiple arrests … bizarre behavior … friends begging for someone to help her.  Many people feared a dramatic crash and fiery explosion.  Amanda Bynes July

A much smaller fire may have paved the way for her to get the help she obviously needs.  Last week it was reported by multiple outlets, such as the New York Daily News, that Amanda Bynes set her pants on fire and accidentally doused her pet Pomeranian with gasoline in the driveway of an unsuspecting elderly woman.  She reportedly fled the scene, tried to wash the dog off at a convenience store, and fled again.  Bynes was picked up by authorities, who had her committed to a 72-hour psychiatric hospitalization.

This latest incident has given her parents the impetus to file for conservatorship over her.  They filed last week, and had their first court hearing Friday morning.

Many people think it’s about time.  But filing for guardianship or conservatorship over a loved one is never an easy choice.  These are onerous court proceedings, through which someone loses the right to make even basic decisions, like where to live, what to spend money on, and who to spend time with.  Normally, they are reserved for elderly people with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, or those with developmental disabilities.  They should never be undertaken lightly, especially for a younger adult.

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James Gandolfini's Estate Planning Mess

James Gandolfini, who won three Emmy awards portraying mob-boss Tony Soprano for eight years on HBO’s The Sopranos, died on June 19th.  That day, he was touring Rome with his 13-year old son, Michael, when he suffered the sudden and fatal heart attack.  James-gandolfini

Gandolfini had parlayed his acting success into a reported net worth of $70 million.  Last December, he had the foresight to sign a new Last Will and Testament.  Gandolfini also had created at least one trust -- and perhaps more -- as referenced in his will.  While it would appear at first blush that Gandolfini did the proper estate planning, the recent revelation of his will (which you can read here) shows otherwise.

To put it bluntly, James Gandolfini's estate is a mess.  Gandolfini failed to do the proper tax planning that would have enabled his estate to avoid -- or at least reduce and delay -- paying estate taxes.  As reported by the New York Daily News, Gandolfini's planning failure subjects 80% of his estate (although, it is actually more than 80%) to the federal estate tax.  At a rate of 40% for all assets over $5.25 million, that totals more than  $20 million in federal estate taxes alone.

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