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Do you have your will and other estate planning documents in place?

Posted on June 7, 2017

If not, you’re not alone. Even the rich and famous tend to postpone this “must do,” according to the CPAs at Teipen Selanders Poynter & Ayres.

“It’s hard to overstate the importance of estate planning,” says CPA Michael Poynter. The value of your estate or the stage of life you’re in really don’t matter when it comes to setting up a will and an estate plan. Of course,” he added, “its important that the planning be done correctly, based on your individual circumstances.”

You might think that the rich and famous would be way ahead of the curve when it comes to this type of planning, especially considering the resources and lawyers available. Surprisingly, there are plenty of celebrities who died with inadequate or nonexistent plans.

Case in point?

  • Sonny Bono left no will or estate plan of any kind when he died in a skiing accident in 1998. His wife had to petition the probate court to be appointed her deceased husband’s administrator, seek court permission to continue various business ventures in which Sonny was involved, and settle multiple claims against his estate.
  • Prince famously died last year without a will, leaving behind a music legacy and a $250 million fortune. It took 13 months to the date of his death before a judge confirmed Prince’s six siblings to be his rightful heirs. Meanwhile, more than 45 people came forward claiming to be his wife, children, siblings or other relatives.
  • Actor Heath Ledger had prepared his will years before his death, but did not update it after the birth of his daughter with actress Michelle Williams. His will left everything to his parents and sister, which resulted in lots of legal disputes and family disharmony.
  • Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren E. Burger is another surprising example. Burger, who died in 1995, typed his own very short will, which neglected to address several issues that a well-drafted will would typically include. As a result, his family paid over $450,000 in taxes and had to seek the probate court’s permission to complete administrative tasks like selling real estate.

Whether or not you are rich and famous, it’s important to consider hiring an expert to sort through the complicated process of estate planning. There are DIY websites and software that promise to do the job, but more often than not, you get what you pay for. Life is messy and complicated, including children from prior marriages, children with special needs, capital gains from property appreciation, and the like.

Bottom line? “Be better prepared than Prince and Chief Justice Burger,” said Poynter. Seek out the assistance of an attorney or a CPA to draft a will and do your estate planning. An attorney will help you navigate a will, and a CPA is best positioned to help with more complicated estate planning.”