Here on the AgingOptions blog we’ve frequently used the sad tale of pop music celebrity Casey Kasem as an example of a wealthy person whose poor estate planning triggered a pathetic end-of-life spectacle. (Click here to read our blog article, published a few years ago, that described the sad affair of Casey Kasem.) By failing to plan adequately for his care in the final years of his life, Kasem ended up with his wishes ignored as his family disintegrated over issues concerning his care and the disposition of his estate.
Sadly, Casey Kasem is far from alone: there have been other very famous celebrities who have passed away over the past several years without an adequate estate plan. The result has been bitter courtroom battles, millions in unnecessary taxes, and families shredded by acrimony and mistrust. That is the theme in this article that was published a few months ago on the Kiplinger financial website. The article is called, “Iconic Estate Flops: What Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and Prince Did Wrong.” The point of the analysis couldn’t be clearer: “Even the biggest stars with the best legal help available have made some major mistakes,” Kiplinger writes. “Here’s what the rest of us can learn about our own wills and estate plans from their famous troubles.”
Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and Prince had a few significant things in common besides their celebrity status and musical fame. Each one passed away unexpectedly – Prince (age 57) in 2016, Houston (age 48) in 2012 and Jackson (age 50) in 2009. Each one left behind shocked and saddened fans and family members. And each of the three pop music icons passed away with major gaps in their estate planning. “Despite having professionals manage almost every aspect of their lives,” the Kiplinger article reports, “none of these artists succeeded in implementing a comprehensive estate plan, costing the heirs millions of dollars in avoidable legal fees and taxes.” In the article’s words, the key to an estate plan is “the peaceful transfer of assets from one generation to the next” – with an emphasis on the word “peaceful.” Sadly, the more money that’s at stake, the more bitter the estate battles can become, but in our experience even modest estates can trigger monumental conflict. “While your estate probably doesn’t include things like music rights or private amusement parks,” says Kiplinger, “you can glean key takeaways from each artist’s situation to avoid making the same costly mistakes.”
First, let’s consider the case of Michael Jackson. Kiplinger’s story reports that Jackson did several things right: he had prepared a will, and he apparently chose highly-qualified music industry experts as executors of his estate, professionals who have managed to build the value of the estate to over $1 billion. But Jackson and his attorneys committed one major oversight: they grossly underestimated the value of the “Michael Jackson brand” at the time of his death at barely more than $2,100. The IRS estimate: $434 million. The battle over this discrepancy is still raging 9 years after Jackson’s death and could result in the IRS demanding hundreds of millions in estate taxes. The take-away, says Kiplinger, is that you need to avoid making a similar (if somewhat less costly) mistake. “Valuating unique assets isn’t required to be 100 percent accurate, but if you’re going to guess, use common sense,” the article advises. “An estate tax filing should be representative of the value of a deceased person’s assets on the day of their death. If you have unique assets within your estate, such as intellectual property, patents, art or antiques, then it’s a good idea to have an accredited third-party appraisal completed.”
Now, what about the more recent death of Prince? “Unlike Michael Jackson,” Kiplinger writes, “Prince’s estate assets were valued appropriately and all necessary taxes were paid without any audits from the IRS.” The big problem, however, is that Prince left no will when he died. With all the millions of dollars at stake, this has triggered a predictable result. “Since Prince had no known children, there was no obvious heir. As a result, more than 45 people have claimed to be potential heirs — including siblings, half-siblings, nieces and even supposed children — costing the estate tremendous amounts in legal fees.” This chaos, Kiplinger adds, was made even worse by a “revolving door” of unqualified executors. The solution to this situation requires advance planning and careful communication. “When an individual doesn’t have a traditional heir or offspring, there are many alternatives available, like nieces, nephews or even charities. The key is informing them while you are still alive of your intentions and goals. This gives them time to prepare and ask the right questions.”
Singer Whitney Houston’s situation would seem to be particularly tragic. Houston had a will in place, and her daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown was named sole heir to her estate, along with contingent heirs in the event of Brown’s early death. The inheritance was supposed to be paid to Brown in installments: 10 percent at age 21, 30 percent at age 25, and the remainder at age 30. In 2015 Brown died at age 22 after having inherited 10 percent of her mother’s estate – and she left behind no will of her own. Even though Whitney Houston’s will named contingent heirs in case of her daughter’s death, because Brown had no will, her father, Bobby Brown, has since weighed in with a claim on her estate, and the parties are still in a protracted legal dispute. The problems posed by Houston’s estate teach a particularly sad and potentially awkward lesson. “When designing an estate plan,” says Kiplinger, “you have to honestly analyze and assess your heirs and relatives,” considering areas of potential conflicts and any special-needs planning required, something Houston ignored even though she knew her daughter struggled with drugs.
Estate planning is an area where professional legal counsel is vitally important – otherwise the plan you thought was sufficient to protect your wishes can too easily fall apart, with your loved ones paying the price. This same principle applies in all aspects of retirement planning, which is our special focus here at AgingOptions. Too often people planning for their retirement future focus all their so-called planning efforts on the area of finances, neglecting other vital facets of retirement planning that must be included for a plan to be truly comprehensive. Besides financial planning, a robust retirement blueprint must include legal preparation, medical protection, housing options and a communication plan with your family to ensure that your wishes will be honored. We call this type of plan an AgingOptions LifePlan – and if you’re getting ready for retirement you owe it to yourself to find out the facts about this planning breakthrough.
We invite you to join Rajiv Nagaich at an upcoming LifePlanning Seminar where he will share with you the power of a LifePlan. Click here for our Upcoming Events page where you can find all the details and register online. You may not be a celebrity – but you definitely do need a comprehensive retirement plan, in the form of an AgingOptions LifePlan. Age on!
(originally reported at www.kiplinger.com)
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