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Celebrity estate planning mistakes inform the rest of us

While many examples of failures in celebrity estate planning, we'd like to take a look a just a handful here. One example involves the estate of Leona Helmsley, who left $12 million in trust for her dog, Trouble. Planning for a pet is not a bad idea, actually, but in her case there was question as to why so much was left to her dog while she left nothing to two grandchildren. This raised the question of the soundness of her mind, and a judge ultimately ended up reducing the trust fund to $2 million. The disinherited grandchildren received a $6 million settlement.

Legendary singer Sammy Davis Jr. left behind significant tax debt at his death, which his estate was unable to pay. Interestingly, his will was quite generous to many people, but was ultimately insolvent because his debt surpassed his assets, since he failed to provide separately for the payment of that debt.

Marilyn Monroe, like other famous celebrities, didn't do enough in terms of estate planning, and three-quarters of her assets went to the third wife of her acting coach, something she most likely would not have wanted. Utilizing trusts could have preventing this mishap.

To take one more example: Jim Morrison of The Doors, who left his estate to his girl-friend and common-law wife. She received his assets at his death, and because she died without a will, her, the estate went to her parents, causing a dispute between Morrison's parents.

These are just some of the many mistakes celebrities have made in their attempts at estate planning, or in failing to plan. The lessons are a bit different for each blunder, but suffice it to say that it pays to work with an experienced attorney in putting together and monitoring an estate plan. Doing so ensures that your assets will get to where you want them to go, and that they get there in the most efficient way possible. 

Source: Fox Business, "Monumental Estate Planning Blunders of 5 Celebrities," June 6, 2013.