Consider the estate of affairs in your succession plan, part 1

Some very large estates have been divided in California courts. But sound estate planning is not just for Hollywood millionaires, titans of industry, and masters of the universe. Every person needs to lay out a detailed plan, so that when the time comes to dispose of one's property, the process can be as free from strife and discord as possible. Most importantly, a strong estate plan will most fully effectuate the intent of the person who created it.

Regrettably, failures in proper estate planning abound. But they provide examples that others can learn from. A case in point is Stieg Larsson, author of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. His book has enjoyed significant popularity, and now with its production as a film, it has become quite successful financially. Unfortunately for Larsson, he died intestate--that is, without a will--in 2004. His estate, now worth at least $40 million, has become the subject of a bitter legal battle between his girlfriend and his family.

The sudden and tragic death of Sarah Burke, an Olympic skier, specifically highlights the importance of creating an estate plan early on. Burke was only 29 when she died unexpectedly in a training accident, and while reports do not indicate whether she had a will, her death reminds us that calamity can strike at any moment. It is best to be prepared to confront such an occurrence.

There are a variety of instruments that you can use to ensure that your wishes are carried out. Everyone has heard of a will, but many may not have heard of a living will or know of the benefits that it provides. Trusts may be appropriate for some people and can provide a flexible way of administering property without having to go through probate. Every person should explore the estate planning options available, and begin to formulate a clear and sensible arrangement.

In the next post, we will discuss additional steps you can take to create an effective and dynamic estate plan.

Source: Forbes, "Etta James, Others Remind of Need for Estate Planning in 2012," Danielle Mayoras and Andy Mayoras, Jan. 24, 2012.

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