Estate planning is not a joke and, as discussed in Jason’s last blog post, is something that the majority of Americans fail to do. In this post, I am going to discuss the Queen of Soul, the King of Pop, Prince and Tim Conway (♪♫♪♫ one of these ones is not like the other) and how a proper estate plan would have helped in each of their cases.
In an ideal estate plan, a person is creating several documents that will assist their fiduciaries not only in the event of that person’s death, but also in the event that said person were to become incapacitated.
Aretha Franklin, known to many as “the Queen of Soul” died this month. Similar to Prince who passed away in 2016, according to court documents filed by her sons, Aretha Franklin died intestate. This means that she died without having prepared a Will or a Trust and it is now up to the Probate Court and laws of the State in which she resided to determine who her ultimate beneficiaries are, not to mention who the Personal Representative (executor) will be. This will likely expose her estate to a long and expensive battle to settle her estate, which would more than likely have been avoided had Aretha shown some R-E-S-P-E-C-T to her entertainment attorney, who was allegedly after her to prepare her estate plan for a number of years.
The estate of Prince (was unmarried and had no children at the time of his death) has been embroiled in those long and costly legal battles over his estate, as multiple people claiming to be his heirs came forward before a Court determination. Those heirs have apparently not been able to agree about certain business decisions, complicating an already complex process and resulting in litigation as the estate has worked to capitalize on the Prince’s work and holdings subsequent to his death. Again, these issues that are now being litigated and will be for years to come would likely have been avoidable with a proper estate plan. (See the Estate of soul legend, Ike Turner, which has been litigated for over 11 years and is still going!)
We have discussed the Queen and Prince, but what about the King? When Michael Jackson died unexpectedly on June 25, 2009, he left behind three minor children. This requires a Guardianship to be established on behalf of the minor children. Fortunately, the “King of Pop” created an estate plan including a Last Will and Testament and a Revocable Living Trust.
An integral part of an estate plan includes making provisions for who is going to be the Guardian of and thus responsible for the care of minor children. Michael Jackson’s mother, Katherine Jackson, is designated in his Will to serve as the guardian for his minor children. While this is fine on paper, because Debbie Rowe, who is the natural parent of two of Jackson’s three children, was still alive, absent court intervention, she would be the presumptive guardian of those two children. Ultimately, Rowe and Katherine Jackson reached a settlement that allowed Katherine Jackson to serve as the guardian for all three of the children, and she still serves as their guardian today.
In addition to Guardianships created for minor children, it is often necessary to create Guardianships for incapacitated adults. Adult Guardianships are usually costly proceedings, which are mostly avoidable by creating a Trust, which includes plans for what should occur in the event of a person’s incapacity and designates a Successor Trustee to you to act on your behalf. According to the internet (which is never wrong…), comedian Tim Conway is battling dementia and his wife and daughter (from a prior marriage) are at odds over his medical treatment, resulting in his daughter petitioning the Court to be appointed Guardian of the 84 year old former star of the Carol Burnett Show. In her Petition to the Court Conway’s daughter states that Conway cannot “properly provide for his personal needs for physical health, food, and clothing” and is “almost entirely unresponsive.”
As mentioned earlier in this post, the creation of a Trust hopefully eliminates the need for the appointment of a Guardian. However, that is not always the case. Sometimes Guardianship is unavoidable. In Florida, a good estate plan will include a “Declaration Naming Preneed Guardian”. In the event that a Guardianship is necessary, this document allows you to tell the Court who you want to be your Guardian. If such a document were prepared by Tim Conway, this would have likely eliminated the upcoming fight between his wife and daughter over who will be his Guardian as the Court would already have indication as to his preference.
As you can see, this “Royal Family” could have avoided numerous pitfalls with a little advance estate planning. If you need a Last Will and Testament, Revocable Living Trust, Declaration Naming Preneed Guardian or any other document, which will help you avoid these situations, contact me to set up a conference to discuss your estate planning needs.
Jason Steinman, Esq.
ASSOULINE & BERLOWE, P.A.
213 East Sheridan Street, Suite 3
Dania Beach, Florida 33004