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7 Crucial Estate Planning Lessons From Famous People

The next time your family doesn’t want to discuss planning, mention one of these celebrity stories to get the conversation started.

It might seem silly to take estate advice from a bunch of millionaires in Hollywood. Their assets aren’t even close to yours and besides, your heirs will never have to fight over props from Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

But there’s plenty to learn from the estate issues that emerged following several celebrity deaths. These seven lessons demonstrate what you should — or absolutely should not — do when it comes to planning.

Write An Actual Will

bob marley mural

The list of celebrities who died without a Will is surprisingly long. Music giants like Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, Amy Winehouse, and most recently Prince all failed to commit their final wishes to paper. This has led to all sorts of ugly, public battles over estates — Marley’s family members were still filing suits against each other a full 30 years after his death. Don’t leave your family in that position. Creating a Will is just a first step, but it’s the most important one you’ll take. [Photo Credit: nodff /]

Start Planning Early

paul walker

Fast and Furious actor Paul Walker was only 40 when he died in car accident. Many people at that age are still putting off estate planning, but Walker had actually made provisions at the age of 28. Upon Walker’s death, his lawyers found simple instructions in his Will: His $25 million fortune would go to his teenage daughter through a Trust, and his mother would serve as her guardian. Thanks to that language, the big stuff got settled quickly and Walker’s family was left to grieve for him rather than fight over his estate. [Photo Credit: s_bukley /]

Get Super Specific

audrey hepburn wax sculpture

Unfortunately, you can’t always trust your kids to share things equally. When Audrey Hepburn passed in 1993, she left behind a Los Angeles storage locker filled with costumes, posters, scripts, and other memorabilia from her lengthy Hollywood career. In her Will, she stated that the contents should be divided between her two sons. Only they couldn’t agree on a fair split, so they took their feud to court in 2015. All this could’ve been avoided if Hepburn had itemized which keepsakes should go to which son, but for now, her glamorous gowns lie in limbo. [Photo Credit: Jaguar PS /]

Update It Routinely

heath ledger

Remember Paul Walker’s Will? He hadn’t updated it in well over a decade at the time of his death, leaving some to wonder if he meant to provide for his current girlfriend. But luckily, in the end, Walker’s Will didn’t cause too much damage. The same cannot be said for the legal documents Heath Ledger signed.

Ledger also left his Will unaltered for many years, even through the birth of his only child. It stipulated that his parents and sister would receive his entire fortune and so, when the actor died unexpectedly in 2008, his daughter was effectively left destitute. His parents quickly pledged to donate the inheritance to their grandchild anyway, but if they weren’t such understanding people, that could’ve spelled real trouble for Matilda Ledger. Always update your Will after major life events — marriage, births, divorce — and make minor tweaks to keep it fresh and accurate. [Photo Credit: Andrea Raffin /]

Account For Taxes

philip seymour hoffman

Philip Seymour Hoffman left an incomplete Will behind in 2014. Not only did it reference just one of his three children, it left the entire $35 million fortune to Hoffman’s long-time partner Mimi O’Donnell. Hoffman’s rationale was that he trusted O’Donnell to use the funds at her discretion to raise their kids and take care of herself. But there was one huge problem: Hoffman and O’Donnell had never married.

Spouses can inherit unlimited sums without estate tax, but unmarried partners cannot. Therefore, the IRS wound up with $15 million of O’Donnell’s inheritance. Vet your Will thoroughly with your attorney for any glaring tax issues, so the government doesn’t end up with over 40 percent of the money that should go to your family or heirs. [Photo Credit: Debby Wong /]

Think Hard About Your Memorial Services

muhammad ali

You can learn a lot of great lessons from the deaths of boxing legend Muhammad Ali and rock star David Bowie. Both men left behind quite explicit instructions for their burial services. Ali allegedly spent 10 years with his lawyers hashing out his multi-day memorial plans, which included a cultural festival, an Islamic funeral prayer, and a flashy public memorial at Louisville’s KFC Yum! Center. Meanwhile, Bowie was secretly cremated without any family or friends present because he wanted to “go without a fuss.”

Although Ali and Bowie had very different plans, both were executed without a hitch because these men took the time to figure out and thoroughly explain their final wishes. Sit down and really imagine what you’d like your funeral or memorial service to look like. Once you have the complete picture, put it on paper in plain terms so your family isn’t concerned about doing too little or feel compelled to do too much. [Photo Credit: Featureflash Photo Agency /]

Make Sure Your Family and Friends Are On The Same Page

newmans own popcorn

When millions are on the table, estate disputes are inevitable. But try to be as frank with every person named in your Will as possible, or you could end up like Paul Newman. The actor left his family stunned by his Will, which essentially cut his daughters out of his philanthropic organization, Newman’s Own. This ran completely contrary to what he’d been telling his children and wife for years, and led to an ongoing battle between the women and the man currently running the company, Robert H. Forrester.

Even if you think a recent tweak to your Will is crystal clear, give your family and colleagues fair notice. What seems obvious to you could blindside them after you’re gone. [Photo Credit: littleny /]

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