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Fascinating, High-Profile Will Disputes

By: Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
July 4, 2019

Will disputes that could have been prevented with estate planning

Fascinating, High-Profile Will Disputes

Despite the insulation fortune and fame can provide from real life, one thing is certain – even the rich and famous die. When they do, if they haven’t decided how their estate will be distributed, those closest to them may be in for an unpleasant surprise.  

Two of the most common mistakes made in estate planning – regardless of a person’s status – are: 

  1. Not regularly reviewing your plans
  2. Never making plans in the first place 

This post will look at two of the most fascinating and high-profile will disputes due to these issues and the simple solution that could have prevented a court battle.

Billionaire Oil Man James Howard Marshall II

Unless you were an avid reader of Playboy, you probably never heard the name Anna Nicole Smith until her estate issues made headlines – her socially debated nuptials to Houston attorney and billionaire oilman James Howard Marshall II and the financial disputes over his estate following his death in 1995. 

His will did not include his first son, J. Howard Marshall III, or Anna Nicole Smith. But it did name E. Pierce Marshall, his second son, as a beneficiary to his estate. Perhaps these exclusions were intended, perhaps not. The exclusions weren’t addressed in Marshall’s will.  

What makes this case so fascinating is that Marshall’s sons and wife spent years in court, leading to near-financial ruin for all three. Two essentially battled to their deaths. 

Whether you just have a simple last will and testament or an extensive estate plan involving complex sets of assets and organizational trusts, the rule of thumb remains the same: review your will when major life changes occur – or once every three years. 

Additionally, when your decisions are likely to induce confusion and ill-will among family members, explain them directly. If you are uncomfortable doing that, document your thoughts or share them with someone willing to explain for you posthumously. 

Prince’s Estate and Probate

It was never any secret to those close to him, Prince didn’t trust attorneys at all. Former tour manager Alan Leeds once explained that the pop icon “looked at managers, lawyers, and business people as necessary evils.”

That distrust seems to have led to avoiding an estate plan entirely, leaving his legacy in limbo for more than three years already. Because Prince left no will, had no spouse or children, and his parents are gone, Minnesota law says the entire estate should be split equally among his siblings.

What makes this high-profile planning mistake so fascinating is that the debate over his assets (estimated at $150 – $300 million) is required to go through probate – a public space we imagine Prince would never have chosen. He was always rather secretive with his personal life, and the public nature of his estate handling has drawn dozens out of the woodwork to vie for their slice of the pie.

Had Prince gotten over his issues and sought the advice of a trustworthy estate planning attorney, his estate might have quietly been passed on to his rightful airs out of the public eye. Instead, attorneys and accountants continue to sift tirelessly through claims.

If anything of value belongs to you and you would like it to be passed on to your surviving heirs, the absolute minimum you should do is write it down. Although estate planning can seem like a daunting task, imagine what could happen to those you care about most upon your passing. Get your wishes down in writing with the help of a lawyer, and make sure you regularly review your estate planning documents.

Author:
Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
Haimo Law
Strategic Planning With Purpose®
Email: barry@haimolaw.com 
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