“Dying without a will doesn’t damage the deceased, but it sure makes it hard on the survivors,” observed John J. Scroggin, J.S., LL.M., AEP at a regional symposium of the Financial Planning Association, citing some notable examples:
(1865) Abraham Lincoln died without a will despite being a skilled attorney. Lincoln left an
estate of $110,000, the equivalent of several million dollars today.
(1973) Pablo Picasso died without a will, leaving an estate of 45,000 pieces of artwork, five
homes, gold, and bonds worth $30 million.
(1998) Sony Bono dies while skiing with estate between $1 and $15 million.
(2009) NFL quarterback Steve McNair was murdered, leaving behind a $20 million estate, but
no will. Under Tennessee intestate law, his surviving wife received only 40% of the estate.
According to AARP, only 17% of Americans over the age of 50 have wills and durable powers of attorney.
At the opposite extreme, Scroggins explains, are celebrities who did create estate planning documents, but who failed to contemplate the unexpected. Again, Scroggins offers a couple of notable examples:
- The Jimi Hendrix estate passed entirely to his father. The father later passed the assets on to his adopted daughter, disinheriting Jim Hendrix’s full blood brother.
- Jacqueline Kennedy provided that the residue of her estate (valued at between $43 and $100 million) would pass to her children. Or, if the children signed a disclaimer, the assets would go to a Charitable Lead Trust for her grandchildren. The CLT was never formed. (Apparently the children chose to pay the estate tax rather than pass assets to the grandchildren!)
“The unfortunate reality is that like ‘regular’ people, many celebrities do not know how to properly handle their finances,” Scroggins concludes.
So, what causes this broad based resistance to signing a will and preparing estate planning documents? Scroggins posits that it is people’s fear of addressing their personal mortality, coupled with the “inability of the attorney to communicate with the client… the necessity, purpose, and impact of proposed documents.”
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