In the wake of the sad and tragic deaths of Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett, we are all reminded how fragile our lives can be and how quickly things can change. The death of these two iconic figures should be a call to many to put their estate plan in order. It should be noted that the reality is that most people die without wills in our country. Some really smart and famous people, Abraham Lincoln, Howard Hughes, and Pablo Picasso, die without taking the time to draft a will.
Many of us procrastinate, minimize our personal need or the legal importance of drafting wills, trusts, living wills, and durable powers of attorney. The complexities of combining and coordinating diverse assets such as individual assets, jointly held assets, retirement plans, life insurance, annuities and business interests seem just too daunting for some. For others, they do not realize the importance of looking at all of their assets from an overall perspective; namely, when all is said and done who ends up with what. Is the division of assets fair and equitable to all concerned after the payment of taxes, debts and estate administration costs?
For many, Michael Jackson’s untimely death has raised these and many other estate planning issues. At this point, no one knows whether he had a will and/or trust for his kids, or whether his estate plan was up to date. But by looking at his situation (and speculating a bit), some important estate planning considerations for the rest of us can be explored:
Guardianship: It is unclear what provisions Mr. Jackson had in his will (assuming there is a valid will) for his children. The early word from the media is that this will be a messy battle in the courts over the issue of guardianship of his children, even if his will indicated his preference for guardian. Even if challenged, the designation of guardian in a will would still be a very significant factor in any court challenge and laying out your wishes is always a prudent thing to do in any event. The object lesson is clear: Parents with young children clearly should see the need for a will that indicates their choice of guardian for their children.
Trusts: No one knows whether Mr. Jackson had set up trusts for his children. Although it appears that his estate is now insolvent, this situation will probably change with post-mortem sales of his music someday providing assets and wealth for his children (think after-death income of the Elvis Presley estate). Hopefully, he set up trusts that will protect and manage his assets. To increase the possibilities of becoming competent adults, perhaps he drafted provisions in his trust in a way that develops their sense of personal initiative and responsibility yet still provides for their basic needs. Experienced estate planning attorneys explore this type of forward looking planning when it comes to dealing with children and their anticipated needs if parents die prematurely.
Specific Bequests: The media has speculated that a very large asset of his estate (his Beatles song rights) was gifted to Paul McCartney. This generosity may be commendable, but from an estate planning perspective this bequest may raise problems. First, if his estate is in fact insolvent, this bequeathed asset would not be available to his estate to be sold and the proceeds used to pay down estate debts and/or benefit his children. Secondly, generally, bequests like these are often times given in a way that they bear no estate taxes. This could distort how the assets are divided between beneficiaries. The point here is that this bequest may have made sense when the will was originally drafted when Mr. Jackson was wealthy, but this bequest could be quite problematic in the current situation. The lesson here is that an estate plan needs to be looked at periodically as the family needs and financial situations change over time.
Special Needs Trusts: Farrah Fawcett died leaving a son who is in jail with addiction problems. The issues for people with children with special needs is often minimized, overlooked or not fully considered. As her only child, did she leave all of her wealth to her son? Did her will provide that he was to get his inheritance at her death or did she provide for a trust for his benefit? If she established a trust, what kind of provisions and conditions did she make in providing benefits to him? These tough questions arise not only for children with addiction issues, but for children with cognitive impairments, physical disabilities and emotional issues. In addition, special needs trusts may be required where children are receiving public assistance from state and local governments.
The Bottom Line: Protect your family and protect your hard earned wealth. Spend the time to plan your affairs with an experienced estate planning attorney. Remember, if you die without a will and trust, your state intestacy laws will control who will get your assets and how they get your assets. When young children are involved, courts generally place the children’s inheritances in trust in accordance with what a judge deems appropriate. In addition, the judge will determine who will be the trustee of any trust they impose on your children and they will determine who should be the guardian of your children. These and other important considerations should be determined by you and not by a court of law, so do it and do it now so you do not leave problems like the ones Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett may have left behind.
Hiring Steven was quite possibly the best decision of my life! Steven took the time to hear every single one of my concerns and address them in an extremely clear, concise and thorough manner. He guided me through the notoriously complicated and stressful process of probate with the utmost of compassion and dedication. Thank you Steven!
I highly recommend Steven J. Fromm for all your estate and tax planning needs. He has the most complete and thorough knowledge of current as well as pending federal, state, and local tax codes of any professional that I have ever been involved with. His ability to totally sort out your current financial condition and relate it to a plan to minimize your tax liability and allow you to sleep at night is without equal. He is professional, timely, creative, and an advocate for your needs, whether its personal or business. You can be assured that you will be well taken care of, with cutting edge/ sound financial and tax advice by Steven J. Fromm.
I have always found Steve to be very responsive, accurate and creative in legal matters presented to him. He demonstrates a good business sense. We have collaborated on several highly technical issues over the years. I look forward to our continuing relationship.
Steven has been instrumental in helping my partner and I to create a secure and satisfying estate plan, which meets or exceeds all of our wishes and contains contingencies for everything from medical issues to wealth management and living wills. In this process, Steven has also become a friend. If you need Estate Planning, Tax Advice, a Will or a trust, etc., we highly recommend Steven Fromm, Esquire. He will listen and be sensitive to your unique situation.
Steve is an excellent attorney who has provided help for my family personally for business, tax, and other services for many years. He is extremely knowledgeable and thorough, and is extremely good at explaining legal concepts to me in clear terms understandable to a non-attorney. It is difficult to pick only three attributes above, since Steve’s work meets most if not all of the attributes above.
Steve is an excellent corporate attorney who has a deep understanding of corporate law, taxes and estate planning. He’s been extremely helpful to me in keeping my many companies and business ventures organized, focused and squeaky clean. He’s very strong in estate planning and wealth preservation as well. Finally, his follow through is air tight and utterly dependable.
Steven is a trusted adviser. We depend on him for so many things. He is patient, listens to our needs and makes excellent suggestions. He is extremely talented. We value his advice and have recommended him unhesitatingly to friends and family.
Steve Fromm is a superb lawyer and I highly recommend him! After a terrible experience with a previous lawyer concerning an estate administration, I entered his office feeling very deflated, confused and discouraged. However, I left his office feeling enthusiastic and eager to get down to business. My situation was very unique, I needed his expertise for an array of things and Steve was able to address all of my needs. With a limited timeframe and an extreme amount of obstacles to overcome he worked meticulously, diligently and accomplished extraordinary results. His professionalism is incomparable and I am forever grateful.