In November of 2018, the Marvel universe lost its former publisher and chairman Stan Lee. Lee, the co-creator of legendary comic book superheroes such as Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, and Black Panther, passed away at 95 after battling a year-long illness. He was survived by his only daughter J.C. Throughout his life, Lee’s creations thrilled generations of fans. After his death, however, his multi-million-dollar estate and comic empire were steeped in controversy. Here are some lessons from Stan Lee’s estate:
Where was the Will?
Estate planning can be difficult for people, no matter what their financial status. Although Lee passed away with considerable wealth, it’s uncertain whether he had a will or trust. One of the first lessons from Stan Lee’s estate is to plan ahead. Like Prince, Aretha Franklin, and Chadwick Boseman, who also died without completing estate plans, Lee died without providing clear testamentary guidance. Prince passed away without a will. Aretha Franklin also died without a formal will. However, multiple hand-written wills were found in her home after her death. In August, Black Panther actor Chadwick Boseman died at age 43 after a four-year battle with pancreatic cancer. The Marvel superhero actor also died without a will.
Lee’s wife of seventy years passed away in 2017. Under California law, as his sole surviving daughter J.C. inherited all of Lee’s estate. If Lee wanted anyone other than his daughter to inherit his fortune, he never planned for that result. Consequently, J.C. inherited all of the Lee estate.
Take Care of Estate Planning Sooner Rather than Later
During the final years of his life, there were allegations that POW! Entertainment, a media production company, originally founded by Lee, had tricked Lee into signing away his name and likeness. Lee sued POW! Entertainment in 2018 but later dropped the suit. Lee also made several negative claims about his daughter, which he later retracted. He passed away later that year. His daughter unsuccessfully attempted to revive the lawsuit in 2020 and was heavily sanctioned by the court. Before his death, there were also rumors of possible elder abuse and financial exploitation.
Part of estate planning involves being prepared for incapacity. Although it is not known if Lee lacked capacity at the time he signed his name and likeness over or filed his lawsuit against POW!, he may have been impaired. In California, by having a power of attorney (POA) for finances, you can have a designated agent ready to take over specific financial and business responsibilities if you become incapacitated. The instrument can be broad or limited to particular accounts or tasks. You can devise the POA to end at a specified time or for a specified purpose. By creating a POA before the need arises, you can help ensure that the right measures will be in place to protect your financial and business interests.
Another essential task is to designate someone to make medical decisions in your place. In California, an Advance Health Care Directive allows you to name the person you want to be your medical decision-maker. This instrument also permits you to provide specific treatment instructions to your medical providers.
Ideally, a person’s POA and Advance Health Care Directive will be prepared long before they are needed. The problem with waiting to prepare these instruments is that if an individual is suffering from an impairment or diminished capacity, they may be too confused to comprehend what they are signing. At that point, the only option may be to seek a conservatorship.
Talk to One Another
Stan Lee spent his life creating iconic superheroes that will endure for generations. Before he died, it was unclear if Lee was being taking advantage of or harmed by those he believed he could trust. Some of these misunderstandings and accusations might have been avoided through estate planning. A final lesson from Stan Lee’s estate is that by taking the time to talk with your loved ones and an estate planning attorney, you can plan for the future and ensure your interests are protected.
At the Law Offices of Alice A. Salvo, we are estate planning attorneys with the experience you need to plan for the future. We can help you evaluate your circumstances and determine the best solutions for you and your family. Please contact us online or by phone to schedule an appointment today.