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How to avoid common estate planning errors

California residents who are making estate planning decisions can learn from the recent mistakes of celebrities. The importance of keeping documents updated is one thing that is illustrated in these high-profile cases.

While a will may be sufficient estate planning for individuals who do not have complex estates, a trust provides privacy and saves money in cases where individuals may have a high public profile or extensive assets. Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman did not want to spoil his children with a trust fund, but as a result, his estate entered an expensive and public probate process. This has been made even more costly by the fact that he was not married to his longtime partner, and as a result, she cannot take advantage of the marital deduction for estate tax purposes.

Keeping information on trustees and beneficiaries current is important as well. Writer Michael Crichton passed away before updating his will to include the child his fifth wife was pregnant with, and his will also included a provision disinheriting future children. The family of radio personality Casey Kasem ended up in a dispute over his health care directives. Robin Williams did not update his trust documents after one trustee passed away, and that failure resulted in the existence and nature of those documents being publicly disclosed. Better communication with family members, attorneys and advisers might have prevented these situations.

An estate planning attorney can assist a client in ensuring that all of the relevant documents are up to date and reflect the client's current wishes. A change in family or financial circumstances can often require an appropriate revision to a will or trust.

Source: Forbes, "Lessons Celebrities Can Teach Retirees About Estate Planning", Thomas and Robert Fross, September 16, 2014

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