It was August of 2007 when the billionaire hotel queen, Leona Helmsley, passed away, leaving behind $12 million dollars to her dog named Trouble.
Unfortunately, for the pooch, the Queen of Mean made a bone-headed, estate-planning blunder that resulted in her Maltese getting a $10 million haircut.
What was the error and how could she have avoided it?
In August of 1997, Princess Diana tragically passed away, leaving her two sons, William and Harry, a considerable fortune.
Unfortunately, both Princes could have avoided Britain’s 40% estate tax, or approximately $14 million, had the royal family the benefit of wiser counsel.
How did Di’s lawyers botch things big time, and what should she have done differently?
In February of 1987, legendary artist, Andy Warhol, left behind an estate of $500,000,000.
However, because Warhol made one common, chowder-headed mistake, the foundation formed after his death was allowed to open a museum to honor the legendary New York artist … in Pittsburgh!
What did Warhol do wrong, so your readers don’t make the same mistake and end up buried in some cornfield in Nebraska?
For fascinating answers to questions like these, may I suggest your readers turn to The 101 Biggest Estate Planning Mistakes where Herbert E. Nass, Esquire, has assembled every bone-headed blunder … foolhardy foul-up … and chowder-headed mistake he has seen in his renowned, 25-year career as an estate attorney for the rich and famous.
On page after page you’ll discover all the dumb things people do — before they keel over.
- You should put your Will in a safe deposit box, right? Wrong! Where should you store it. Page 113.
- You can assign a Power of Attorney for your estate planning, right? Wrong, again. When you drop dead, your POA drops dead with you. Page 117.
- You can avoid probate with a revocable trust, right? Not so fast! Certain conditions have to be met, and, unfortunately, many high-priced lawyers either forget to tell their clients what those are, or don’t know themselves. Page 150.
- Your confidential estate documents are safe with your attorney, right? Not always. Attorney Nass has heard more horror stories about Wills accidentally getting tossed into a dumpster by retiring attorneys than he cares to admit. Where should you store your vital papers? Page 129.
Herb’s new book is not expensive. At Amazon you can pick it up for less than fourteen bucks. That’s what clients pay Attorney Nass if they spend 1.3 minutes in his Lexington Avenue office.
Take oil baron, John Paul Getty who requested that his body be immediately buried on his private ranch after his death. Unfortunately, because his legion of fancy lawyers neglected to follow the steps on page 223, Getty’s body was embalmed and refrigerated at the Forest Lawn Memorial Park cemetery … for three years!
Take multi-millionaire Wall Street mogul, R. Theodore Ammon. Unfortunately before he was murdered, his high-priced New York law firm did not think to update his Will to reflect his bitter divorce proceedings. As a result his wife, Generosa, who re-married the murderer, was entitled to almost everything. Page 105.
Note: Generosa did not make the same mistake years later. When Generosa passed away, her Will left her jailbird husband, nothing.
Whew! So far I’ve given you just a taste of what your readers will find inside The 101 Biggest Estate Planning Mistakes.
But if you’d like to speak with Attorney Nass personally about how to prevent disgruntled relatives from making your Will “disappear” (page 52) … or the inexcusable dumb error Anna Nicole Smith’s attorneys made when drafting her Will (page 124) …
… I’ll just have to make sure Attorney Nass is not in with a client (at $595/hour) that growls, purrs, barks, hisses, or sleeps hanging upside down on a jungle jim.
You see, ever since Attorney Nass represented a cat named Ming with a $200,000 trust fund, it seems his clientele has become, well, furrier or more feathery.
If you don’t know the story, Ming’s owner had passed away, and it was Attorney Nass’s job to make sure all of Ming’s pet food, medical care, and catnip were provided for during Ming’s lifetime. When Ming finally went to kitty heaven at age 10, the trust dictated that the remaining funds would go to Ming’s caretaker, a doorman in Ming’s building. However, because Attorney Nass needed to make sure Ming’s death was not the result of foul play, he arranged for an autopsy which confirmed Ming had indeed passed away from natural causes. With the coroner’s report in hand, Attorney Nass was able to deliver the substantial balance of funds to the doorman and his family.
In this case, everything went according to plan. However, unless you know all the possible pitfalls of estate law, things can go wrong.
No one wants to think about dying; and many people don’t until it’s too late! Even then, dividing up the assets after death can cause a lot of emotionally charged issues. Sally wants the piano and Mary wants the ring! The problem is the Sam also wants the piano and Pam always thought SHE would get the ring instead. These family squabbles over assets can turn from harmonious to disa
ster in about 2 seconds flat.
That’s why there are many families these days who are changing the rules to make everyone’s lives easier when someone passes away. In some cases, they are even making it more like a game of chance. Some of the ideas are creative, and others are just a little bit weird.
Get a Head Start
I thought one of the best ideas was giving stuff away while you’re still alive. That way you know exactly where it’s going, and people can get their complaints out now rather than after you’ve passed away. It’s also a plus because it can hep you save on estate taxes if you’ve got things that are worth big bucks.
Have a Lottery
Another family decided to pull straws to figure out the order they got to choose heirlooms. That way there was no favoritism and no complaining. It was just a matter of luck whether you got the short straw or a longer straw. Sometimes nature just needs to take its course and humans need to stay out of it to avoid squabbles.
Probably the most fun was when the person who eventually died left colored dots on the back of items. That way, everyone just had to go around and take part in a ‘treasure hunt’ to find what had been given to them. It’s hard to argue with the wishes of someone who has just passed away (though people still manage to do it).
Come Back from the Grave to Explain
Finally, some people have decided to record videos of themselves discussing their wishes. Children who are feeling sore because they didn’t get what they want will suddenly put a sock in it when they hear mom or dad’s wishes from beyond the grave.
While some of these ideas are discussed with a tongue in cheek attitude, they really can work well. It all depends on how your family tends to handle these things. Everyone hopes that family members will be graceful and remember that the ‘stuff’ is nowhere near as important as the life that left it behind. Once we forget that, we’ve lost touch with reality.
Still, it’s inevitable that these squabbles will appear. It’s either that something is worth so much money it never seems fair giving it to just one person, or the item carries so much sentimental value that everyone wants it as a memento. That’s probably why choosing a strategy like those listed above is so helpful. Your hope is that it ends up like this:
“The next night, heirs gathered, and one gave a brief tutorial on silver markers. Over cocktails, they made their silver selections. ‘It was fun,’ says the granddaughter. ‘Not everyone got everything they wanted, but it was equitable. There was no acrimony.’”
No matter how your family decides to divide up the riches, always remember to honor the person behind them. If you don’t get that memento or jewel you were coveting: let go and move on. That’s how the person who’s passed on would have wanted it. Family should always come before objects. Just because someone else got the trinket that you covetted, it doesn’t mean that you were loved any less.