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Don’t Let Estate Blunders Get in the Way of Your Wishes

These cautionary tales of estate planning mistakes offer a few important lessons.

You’ve worked long and hard to build your estate. Don’t let blunders keep your wishes from being carried out and leave your family – and wealth – in the lurch.

Here are a few lessons to keep in mind.

No plan in place

Prince Rogers Nelson did a lot of things right in his life, leaving an indelible musical legacy that spanned generations. Unfortunately, his financial legacy wasn’t as successful. The artist formally – and formerly – known as Prince passed away in 2016 without an estate plan in place. Years of legal battles ensued.

Prince didn’t have a will, an executor or a trust in place, which left his hundreds of millions of dollars, his music library and his assets up in the air. In the void, multiple people vied to serve as the executor of the vast estate. With so many in the mix, the petition went to court, with siblings and half-siblings battling for control.

The point is that it’s imperative to not just name your executor or any other position with responsibility for overseeing your wishes (like a trustee or power of attorney) but to cast the right person in each role. Thoughtfully selecting these financial caregivers could help you avoid the bungles and blunders that even celebrities fall prey to.

Smoke and mirrors

Tobacco heiress Doris Duke left behind an estate worth $1.3 billion and a sizable sum to her charitable foundation. She named her butler as executor and trustee of the foundation. It wasn’t long before his spending was called into question, and he was booted by a probate judge, only to be reinstated by a higher court. A battle ensued and the parties settled on a board of trustees to manage the foundation.

The moral of the story? Thoroughly vet your chosen representative. Be extra careful whom you pick as an executor, trustee or guardian. For a large trust or foundation, a corporate trustee or board may be ideal to handle financial and administrative tasks. Also, have a backup plan in case your chosen designee declines the responsibility or is unable to uphold his or her duties.

The dotted line

One gentleman went through all the motions with his attorney and financial planner, setting up a will and living trust, but he never signed them. Time got away from him, and sadly, so did his memory. As his Alzheimer’s advanced, his family stepped in to help, but were dismayed to discover the invalid documents. Because there was no trust or power of attorney to dictate the man’s wishes, a guardianship was required to manage both his personal and financial affairs. The family was forced to go through a court to manage his finances, a cumbersome and expensive process, and his wishes for the final distribution of his assets didn’t occur.

The lesson here? Resolve to be proactive. Waiting puts you and your estate at the mercy of life’s great unknowns. We can’t guarantee tomorrow, as much as we’d like to, but we can do as much as possible to ensure that our loved ones are taken care of when we no longer are able to do it ourselves.

Sources: More than Money 360; Broadridge; Florida Bar; fox43.com; caregiver.com; National Caregivers Library; mylifesite. net; money.usnews.com; Raymond James research; legalzoom.com; MFS; cnbc.com; uslegalwills.com; caring.com; Accenture; cegworldwide.com; Nuveen; kiplinger.com

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