Paul Walker, who starred in the Fast & Furious movie franchise, died tragically in a high speed car accident in Los Angeles last November at the age of 40. His estate was opened at the end of January in the Superior Court of California, County of Santa Barbara probate court, revealing that he left assets of approximately $25 million. He is survived by his 15-year-old daughter, Meadow.
So what can we learn by looking at the probate of Paul Walker’s Estate?
Put assets in a trust. Paul Walker intended to avoid the Court process called probate by creating a revocable living trust. A trust makes everything totally private and keeps it all out of Court. Unfortunately, while Paul Walker had a Trust, it wasn’t properly funded – in other words, his assets were never transferred into the trust … and this is an all too common estate planning failure, even when working with a lawyer because most lawyers simply do not handle trust funding, the single most important part of estate planning.
Properly fund your trust. The contents of Walker’s estate, who will inherit it and when, are now public knowledge because Walker’s lawyer didn’t take the necessary steps to make sure his Trust was properly funded. Sadly, this isn’t even a case of malpractice (though it should be) because it’s common practice in the world of estate planning lawyers. When you plan your estate, the most important thing you can do is ensure your assets are transferred properly.
Name guardians for minor children. Walker’s daughter, Meadow, is still a minor and he did name his own mother as guardian. But if he had not, there could have been a family fight, and a judge would have stepped in to make the final decision about who would raise Meadow. By nominating guardians you can avoid family fights over your children (and the assets that follow them) or ever having a judge – a total stranger – decide who will raise your children.
Don’t wait to do estate planning. Walker was 28 when he created his will in 2001. While we don’t know what prompted him to create an estate plan so early – perhaps it was the birth of his daughter- he did the right thing in planning early. Everyone over the age of eighteen should have a will, and if you have children you’ll want a more comprehensive estate plan so they are always protected and provided for, no matter what.
Keep estate plans updated. Not only did Walker’s attorney not ensure his assets were titled properly, but he never updated Walker’s plan from the original version created 12 years before he died. Walker’s net worth changed significantly during that time. If his estate is $25,000,000, as we’ve read, his family must pay over $5,000,000 in estate taxes. I think that’s unconscionable because with proper planning that could have all been structured to pass on to his family instead of the Government. To make sure all of your assets go to your family, you should update your estate plan at least every three years.
To learn more about putting the right legal and financial protections in place for your family, contact our office to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk. We normally charge $750 for a Family Estate Planning Session, but because this planning is so important, I’ve made space for the next two people who mention this article to have a complete planning session at no charge. Call today and mention this article.