In a continuation of the previous article concerning famous people and their estate planning mistakes, here are some more examples.
Don’t make promises without writing them into your estate plan. Angela Borlaza, actor Brando’s former maid and later “major domo” (head of the household staff), claimed Brando gave her the house she lived in, saying he had kept it in his name for tax reasons. She settled with the executors of his estate for $125,000. She also claimed Brando made her an offer she couldn’t refuse, and promised her continued employment with a company he owned, and settled that claim out of court.
Try not to hide your estate planning documents. When Olympic sprinter Florence Griffith Joyner died at 38, in 1998, her husband couldn’t find her original will, and failed to file it with the probate court within 30 days of her death, as required by California law. Joyner’s husband and mother took disputes, including whether Joyner promised her mother could live in their house the rest of her life, to court. Joyner never filed the original will, and the judge eventually appointed a third party to administer the estate. Keeping two copies of a will, one in a safety deposit box or a filing cabinet and one with your attorney, is always a good idea.
If you do something a little wacky with your estate plan, have someone test your mental faculties at the same time. When she died in 2007, hotel tycoon Leona Helmsley’s will left most of her $5 billion estate to charity, created a $12 million trust for her Maltese dog, Trouble, and completely cut out two of her four grandchildren. The two stiffed grandkids sued her estate, claiming she wasn’t mentally fit to create her will and trust. The case settled, with Trouble getting $2 million, and the two grandkids sharing $6 million plus legal fees. An attorney can perform a mini-mental fitness exam. While that won’t stop family members from making claims, it can provide evidence in court.
Be careful who you trust. In October 2009, socialite Brooke Astor’s son Anthony Marshall was convicted of fraud and grand larceny relating to his handling of his late mother’s estate. The 14 counts of which a New York jury found Marshall guilty included misusing his power of attorney over her financial affairs by giving himself a retroactive $1 million raise for managing her finances. The 88 year old Marshall settled the probate suit that included a dramatic cut in his share of the Astor fortune, and has denied wrongdoing and an appeal is pending.
Be clear about your true wishes. In his will, baseball legend Ted Williams said he wished to be cremated. But his two children from a second marriage produced a grease-stained note saying he wished to be put in biostasis after his death, and they froze his body after his death in 2002. The note was signed by Williams and his two younger children. His eldest daughter fought to have his body unfrozen and cremated, but gave up the fight when she ran out of money. His eldest daughter even auctioned off some of his famous baseball memorabilia to fund the suit. Williams’ body was mistaken for someone who only wanted his head frozen. Supposedly, Williams’ head is still frozen in liquid nitrogen.