InsuranceNewsNet Magazine May 2010 : Page 15

A THE LESSONS OF FAMOUSLY BAD ESTATE PLANNING | FEATURE Admit it: You cAn’t REsist celebrity news. You’re standing at the grocery checkout behind someone who still uses checks, and then you notice the gossip rags. You can’t help but look and shake your head: “Tiger Woods did what? Brad wants to remarry Jennifer? Kirstie Alley is obese—again?” Let’s face it—celebrity foibles are even more enticing than are the Reese’s Pea- nut Butter Cups calling your name. Sex might sell, but silliness does too. And celebrity screw-ups can help sell one of the most unsexy things out there: estate planning. Sure, people know they should have a will, but if you tell them about the many celebrity disasters that have ensued because of the absence of a will, you’re likely to grab clients’ attention. Guitar great Jimi Hendrix died without a will in 1970, setting up a fam- ily fight that would end up in court more than 30 years later. His father, Al, had cut Jimi’s brother out of the estate and left the Hendrix legacy in control of Al’s adopted daughter, Janie, from his second marriage. And even though Al had built an $80 million business called Experi- ence Hendrix, he reportedly still did not complete Jimi’s grave site. Odds are good that Jimi Hendrix would not have expected these turns of events, but he had no say in the matter because he did not leave a will. Because of undefined intent, the celeb- rity universe is filled with questionable handling of legacies. Sometimes it is not failure but overwhelming success that generates criticism, as in the BoB marley case. The Marley estate in 2009 signed a deal with a private-equity firm to sell merchandise worldwide to gen- erate as much as $1 billion, prompting some to ask if that is what Bob Marley would have wanted. Forbes, for exam- ple, asked, “Could this be commercial overkill for the Rastafarian whose spiri- tual songs about social injustice, hope, and redemption have become anthems for billions of fans, from Marrakech to Tokyo, and will it alienate them?” Daniel Scott, an attorney with Chad- bourne & Parke in New York City who specializes in estate planning for May 2010 InsuranceNewsNet Magazine 15 entertainers, said those stories frus- trate him. “We should know what Bob Marley wanted,” Scott said. “This should all be in place where the transition of control is both smooth and accomplishes the art- ist’s goals.” In his practice, Scott finds that art- ists are very concerned about their leg- acy and want to extend control over it for posterity. Celebrities already understand brand management and have seen what happens when it is not done well — or not done at all. Scott helps set up trusts, systems, family offices and other structures to protect clients’ assets, but most people fall in the middle between nothing at all and bulletproof plans. And the middle can get muddy. Take the Sonny Bono and Michael Crichton cases. When Sonny died on Jan. 5, 1998, in a skiing accident, he did not leave a will. As with all cases when people die intestate, Sonny left quite the mess for his family—and it only got messier. Sonny’s widow, Mary, barely had time to grieve. She had to run to court so she could be appointed the estate’s execu- tor. Then she had to file special court petitions to manage royalties and take advantage of business opportunities before they were lost. Other people, including Cher, lined up to make claims against the estate. Then there was the inevitable love child. “It created a lot of havoc, this poor grieving widow dealing with every- thing else, and now she has this love child come forward,” said Danielle B. Mayoras, an estate planning attorney in Troy, Mich. “They actually had to take a DNA sample from Sonny’s body to determine whether this was actually a child of his. Sonny could have saved his widow a lot of grief and aggravation, and all it would have taken to do it was some simple estate planning.” Rep. Sonny Bono is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington (AP Photo/Joe Marquette)

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