Here's why you need an Estate Plan - My Press Plus

October 19th-25th, 2020 is National Estate Planning Awareness Week, so if you’ve been thinking about creating an estate plan, but still haven’t checked it off your to-do list, now is the perfect time to get it done.

When it comes to putting off or refusing to create an estate plan, your mind can concoct all sorts of rationalizations: “I won’t care because I’ll be dead,” “I’m too young,” “That won’t happen to me,” or “My family will know what to do.”

But these thoughts all come from a mix of pride, denial, and above all, a lack of real education about estate planning and the consequences to your family of not planning. Once you understand exactly how planning is designed to work and what it protects against, you’ll realize there is no acceptable excuse for not having a plan.

Indeed, the first step in creating a proper plan is to thoroughly understand the potential consequences of going without one. In the event of your death or incapacity, not having a plan could be incredibly traumatic and costly for your family, who will be forced to deal with the mess you’ll have created by neglecting to plan.

While each situation and family are unique, in this multi-part series I’m going to discuss some of the things most likely to happen to your loved ones if you fail to create a plan. This is the first:

Your family will have to go to court
If you don’t have a plan, or if you only have a will (yes, even with a will), you’re forcing your family to go through probate upon your death. Probate is the legal process for settling your estate, and even if you have a will, it’s notoriously slow, costly, and public. But with no plan at all, probate can be a true nightmare for your loved ones.

Depending on the complexity of your estate, probate can take years, or even decades, to complete. And like most court proceedings, probate can be expensive. In fact, once all of your debts, taxes, and court fees have been paid, there might be little left for your loved ones to inherit. And for whatever is left, your family will have to pay hefty attorney’s fees and court costs in order to claim them.

Yet, the most burdensome part of probate is the frustration and anxiety it can cause your loved ones. In addition to grieving your death, planning your funeral, and contacting everyone you’re close with, your family will be stuck dealing with a crowded court system that can be challenging to navigate even in the best of circumstances. Plus, the entire affair is open to the public, which can make things all the more arduous for those you leave behind, especially if the wrong people take an interest in your family’s affairs.

That said, the expense and drama of the court system can be almost totally avoided with proper planning. Using a trust, for example, we can ensure that your assets pass directly to your family upon your death, without the need for any court intervention. As long as you have planned properly, just about everything can happen in the privacy of our office and on your family’s time.

No more excuses
Given the potentially dire consequences probate can cause for your family, you can’t afford to put off creating your estate plan any longer. Next week we’ll look at how the lack of an estate plan will cost you control of who inherits your assets as well as when and how the inheritance is received.  

 

 

Tiger King: Joe Exotic's former zoo handed to rival Carole Baskin ...

 

Anyone who has seen the hit Netflix documentary Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness can attest that it’s one of the most outlandish stories to come out in a year full of outlandish stories. And while Tiger King’s sordid tale of big cats, murder-for-hire, polygamy, and a missing millionaire may seem too outrageous to have any relevance to your own life, the series actually sheds light on a number of critical estate planning issues that are pertinent for practically everyone.

Over seven episodes, Tiger King provides several shocking, real-life examples of how estate planning can go horribly wrong if it’s undertaken without trusted legal guidance. In this article, we’ll discuss some of the worst planning mistakes made by key people in the documentary, while offering lessons for how such disasters could have been avoided with proper planning.

The Feud

While the documentary’s dark, twisted plot is far too complicated to fully summarize, it focuses primarily on the bitter rivalry between Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin, who are both owners and breeders of big cats. Joe, the self-professed “Tiger King,” whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage, runs a roadside zoo in Oklahoma filled with more than a hundred tigers, lions, and other assorted animals.

Carole is the owner of Big Cat Rescue, a Florida-based sanctuary for big cats rescued from captivity. As an avid animal rights activist, Carole goes on a public crusade against Joe, seeking to have his zoo shut down, claiming that he exploits, abuses, and kills the animals under his care.

The feud between Joe and Carole goes on for decades, and eventually peaks after Carole wins a million-dollar trademark infringement lawsuit against Joe and Joe is ultimately convicted of hiring a hitman to kill Carole and sentenced to 22 years in federal prison.

Although the clash between Joe and Carole takes center stage and exposes key estate planning concerns related to business ownership and asset protection (which we’ll have to cover in a separate article) the most egregious planning errors are made by Carol’s late husband Don Lewis.

Missing millionaire

Don, a fellow big-cat enthusiast who helped Baskin start Big Cat Rescue, mysteriously disappeared in 1997 and hasn’t been seen since. After having him declared legally dead in 2002, Carole produced a copy of Don’s will that left her nearly his entire estate—estimated to be worth $6 million—while leaving his daughters from a previous marriage with just 10% of his assets.

Carole was not only listed as Don’s executor in the will she presented, but she also produced a document in which Don granted her power of attorney. However, the planning documents Carole produced were deemed suspicious by multiple people who were close to Don for a number of reasons.

Don’s daughters and his first wife claim that Don and Carole were having serious marital problems before he disappeared, and that Don was planning to divorce Carole. As evidence of this, we learn that Don sought a restraining order against Carole just two months before he vanished, in which he alleges Carole threatened to kill him. A judge denied the restraining order, saying there was “no immediate threat of violence.”

Don’s daughters also claim that around the time the restraining order was filed, their father created a will that left the vast majority of his estate to them, and he did so in order to minimize any claims Carole might have to his property should he pass away. Additionally, Don’s administrative assistant, Anne McQueen, said that before he disappeared, Don gave her an envelope containing his new will and a power of attorney document, in which he named Anne as his executor and power of attorney agent, not Carole.

Anne said Don told her to take the envelope to the police if anything should happen to him. According to Anne, the envelope with Don’s planning documents was kept in a lock box in Don’s office, but she claims Carole broke into the office and took the documents 10 days after he disappeared. Anne believes Carole forged the will and power of attorney she ultimately presented to the court.

Carole vehemently denied all of these claims. She further alleged that Don sought to disinherit his children in his will, and it was only at Carole’s suggestion that Don left them anything at all.

Although law enforcement investigated Don’s disappearance from Tampa to Costa Rica, Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said the investigation failed to uncover any physical evidence, only a conflicting series of stories and dead ends. In light of this, Don’s estate passed through probate in 2002, and his assets were distributed according to the terms of the will Carole presented, leaving Carole with the bulk of his $6-million estate, and leaving Don’s daughters with just a small fraction of his assets.

While there’s more to the story surrounding Don’s planning documents and Carole’s suspicious actions, let’s look at the planning mistakes Don made and how they could have been easily prevented.

The Big Lesson: Always work with an experienced estate planning lawyer when creating or updating your planning documents, especially if you have a blended family. If Don’s children and assistant are correct and Don created a will that left his daughters the bulk of his estate and disinherited Carole, it appears he did so without the assistance of an attorney. This was his first big mistake.

There are numerous do-it-yourself (DIY) estate planning websites that allow you to create various planning documents within a matter of minutes for relatively little expense. Yet, as we can see here, when you use DIY estate planning instead of the services of a trusted advisor guiding you and your family, the documents can easily disappear or be changed without anyone who can testify to what you really wanted. In the end—and when it’s too late—taking the DIY route can cost your family far more than not creating any plan at all.

Even if you think your particular planning situation is simple, that turns out to almost never be the case. There are a number of complications inherent to DIY estate plans that can cause them to be ruled invalid by a court, while also creating unnecessary conflict and expense for the very people you are trying to protect with your plan.

And while it’s always a good idea to have a lawyer help you create your planning documents; this is exponentially true when you have a blended family like Don’s. If you are in a second (or more) marriage, with children from a prior marriage, there’s an inherent risk of dispute because your children and spouse often have conflicting interests, particularly if there’s substantial wealth at stake. The risk for conflict is significantly increased if you are seeking to disinherit or favor one part of your family over another, as Don was claimed to have done with Carole.

Finally, as we saw with Don, if your loved ones can’t find your planning documents—whether because they were misplaced or stolen—it’s as if they never existed in the first place. Yet, if Don had enlisted the support of an experienced planning professional, his documents would have likely been safeguarded from being lost, stolen, or destroyed.

 

It’s an unfortunate fact that predators emerge during times of crisis to take advantage of people. That means the COVID-19 pandemic can leave your elderly parents vulnerable in more ways than one. But even when things go back to normal, this chronic problem of financial exploitation will still be a risk.

We see it happen far too often. Maybe your parents live several hours away, or in another state or country, and someone in their community gets close to them. Or maybe they have a close relationship with a financial advisor who isn’t really looking out for their best interests. This person could even be another family member, friend, business partner, hired caregiver, professional advisor, or just a casual acquaintance.

Sometimes, when bad actors become involved with your parents’ lives and assets, it can lead not only to a loss of money, but even a loss of personal freedom. One of the worst cases of this I’ve heard of is the case of Milo, a retired veteran living in Arizona, and his son Greg, who lives in California. It all started when Milo asked Greg to help him protect his small amount of money from a family member who was “borrowing” it freely. All Milo had was a savings of $140,000 and payments of $3,700 per month from social security, a pension, and veteran’s benefits.

To help his father out, Greg applied for guardianship of Milo’s money, and the court granted it. But at the same time, without notifying Greg, the court appointed a professional financial Conservator that neither Milo nor Greg knew. The Conservator quickly set to draining Milo’s small savings, with the court barring Greg from filing any more motions.

The situation escalated even further when the Conservator decided to move Milo from his assisted living facility to a cheap lock-down facility where he wouldn’t even have access to the outdoors. This would, of course, free up more money for the Conservator to access. Before this could happen, though, Greg hurried to pick his father up and bring him back to California with him.

Now, the two are essentially on-the-run from authorities, who are trying to bring Milo back to Arizona and under the control of the Conservator. Milo and Greg are out of funds and are now trying to raise capital to mount a legal battle and free Milo from this terrible situation.

The scariest part is that Milo and Greg had all the proper legal documents in place. Sometimes, though, that is not enough to protect your parents from being taken advantage of—even to this extreme. Especially in a time of stress and confusion like the COVID-19 pandemic we are currently living in, it is vital to be vigilant and get the best possible counsel to avoid something like this happening.

This isn’t meant to make you paranoid or distrustful of the people around you, or of how your parents handle their own lives. Well, maybe it is a little. Mostly, though, it’s a call to encourage you and your family to be aware, educated, and empowered in knowing what risks are possible for your parents, and for your future inheritance.

Look out for the following “red flag” actions from influencers:

  1. Preventing important communication between family members;
  2. Withholding documents from other family members;
  3. Encouraging financial gifts or economic benefits to recently met connections (usually in the same network as your parents’ “new friend”);
  4. Naming recently met connections as attorney-in-fact (under a financial power of attorney), or as a joint owner on financial accounts, real estate, and other assets;
  5. Giving financial advice that may not be in your or your parents’ best interests, but rather in the interests of the advisor.

We recommend you start talking with your elderly parents now about how they want their affairs to be handled. Also, you should immediately investigate any situation where you suspect your loved ones are being taken advantage of. There have been too many cases of financial abuse or inappropriate influence where family members are too late to stop the bad actor.

Ideally, you’ll know the value of your parents’ tangible assets (i.e., home, car, business, stocks) and intangible assets (i.e., generational stories, personal relationships, theological legacies). Additionally, you should be working with an advisor to help you understand how family dynamics and the law will impact you, and everything that matters to you and your parents when they’re gone.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

If you or your parents have a retirement account, (or any investment accounts for that matter) now is a perfect time to get connected to how those accounts are invested. While you may have outsourced all of this to a broker, which is fine, I don’t believe you should ever allow your investments to be made without your clear understanding of exactly what you are investing in as well as how and whether your investments align with your plans for the future.  

Some brokers and advisors believe this, too. Unfortunately, because it takes more time to ensure you understand your investments, many brokers and advisors would rather keep you in the dark. Now is not the time (or ever, really) for you to be okay with being in the dark about your investments.

Educate Yourself
If you or your parents have a retirement account, and you are not intimately connected to how those assets are being invested, it’s time to get more involved.

Log in to your retirement account or pull your last statement and look. Many brokerages select investment funds for their clients’ portfolios based on rates of growth. They’ll offer investment options based on a few tiers of growth and risk, and very often you have no idea what your assets are actually invested in.

Labels like “slow-growth” or “conservative” or “high-growth” or “income” aren’t enough to tell you exactly where your money is invested. So, what you want to do now is look at your statement, which should contain the names of the funds chosen for you, and you can go from there to do your research. Look up each of the funds on sites like Yahoo Finance to see what you are investing in, and whether you understand these companies, believe in their future growth, and want to stay invested there.

Go through this process with your parents, too. The money they have invested in the stock market is part of your overall family wealth. If it’s not there to support them through their senior years, that financial responsibility will eventually fall to you. Having these conversations with them now can be difficult, but it’s important.

If you have a broker you work with, call them now, and ask to get on a video conference. Then, have them help you review each investment, why it’s been chosen, and whether there may be better or other options for you or your parents.

Here’s the key: make sure you understand it, and don’t hang up the phone until you do. If your broker is using words you don’t understand, keep asking questions until you do understand. If you need a referral to an advisor give us a call.

With everything that is happening in the world—and with the volatility of the stock market and our current reality —knowing your options is vital to preserving the full legacy you and your parents have worked hard to build.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

With all the media about “digital wills” and “online estate planning” it could be tempting to think you can do your estate planning yourself, online. And, maybe you can. But, if you do, you need to know the potential pitfalls. Online estate planning could be a big trap for the unwary and end up leaving your family worse off than if you had done nothing at all.

First and foremost, before you do any of your own online estate planning, it’s critical to understand your family dynamics, the nature of your assets, and what the state of California would say should happen to your assets if something happens to you. You see, if you don’t do estate planning, the state does have a plan for your assets if you become incapacitated or when you die. You need to know what that plan is, so you know whether you want to change it.

But Don’t I Need a Will and Can’t I Just Do It Online?
Here’s the funny thing about estate planning: the one legal document that everyone thinks they need most actually does the least.

Every adult does need SOME estate planning. A will is always a good idea because it says who gets, and who oversees distributing, what you have. However, if the default law would have given your assets to the same people you would choose and authority to the person you would name anyway, then an online will would probably do nothing valuable for you at all.

Even a properly drafted will does not keep your family out of court (a will must always be adjudicated by a judge). And if drafted improperly, it could require the person you’ve named to handle things for you to get a bond, which is like an insurance policy. These are expensive and can be hard to get for an executor who has less than a stellar credit score. If your named executor cannot get a bond, it would then mean the court would appoint a court ordered executor, and that can be costly for your estate. This is just one of the examples of how having a will prepared online, can create more expense for the people you love. Unfortunately, all the online will preparation solutions I’ve reviewed don’t even mention this risk.

So, yes, you can do your own will online, but at what potential cost for the people you love?

The Problem with Online Wills
DIY online estate plans (and even many estate plans created by lawyers) usually include three or four basic documents: a will, a financial power of attorney, an advance health care directive, and possibly a trust.

But, honestly, completing these documents without counsel is simply not enough to guarantee your estate will be executed as simply, affordably, and effectively as you would wish.

For instance—are you sure there isn’t some missing consideration that could lead to turmoil as your family tries to figure it out? Did you know that most family fights don’t even happen over money, but over lack of clarity? Have you considered all your extended family, including stepchildren and ex-spouses? What will be done with all the personal, sentimental items you want to pass on to your children?

And there have been far too many scenarios where seniors, even those who had some estate planning done, get caught in the court system or even declared incompetent, and then have court-appointed guardians named, who then drain their accounts. In many cases, their assets are gutted before they can go to their kids. You don’t want that to happen to you or your family and a do-it-yourself will makes that outcome more likely, not less.

What about making sure your family knows what you have and where it is? An online will won’t tell them that. There’s nearly $10 billion being held in the California department of unclaimed property; much of it because someone died and their family lost track of their assets.

So how can you be sure you’ve got everything covered, legally?

With online wills and DIY estate planning docs, you wouldn’t even know what questions to ask to uncover the potential risks to the people you love, who deserve to receive what you’ve created in your life, without a big mess.

Think about this: do you know anyone who has lost family relationships because, after a loved one died, the family ended up in an irrevocable fight? Maybe this has even happened in your own family. I see it all the time and the consequences—both, financial and emotional—can be devastating.

And, it’s all unnecessary.

Yes, even if there are attorneys on staff at these online companies, they don’t get to know you and your family dynamics enough to spot the real issues that could arise. They are, instead, focused on a one-size-fits-all solution and easy answers to complex issues.

The Kind of Help Your Family Deserves
Many lawyers who specialize in estate planning often base their work on template documents. Even if they are well-intentioned, they’re working with an old, traditional system that places the focus solely on providing documents. But the documents are only as good as the understanding a lawyer has about your family dynamics, the nature of your assets, how the law will apply to your situation, and how the documents can be written as simply as possible to achieve your wishes. You need much more than just a set of four or five filled-out template documents to address all those complexities.

Your plan should include an inventory of your assets and guarantee they are all owned in a way that will keep your family out of court and conflict while ensuring everyone named in your plan has what they need and understands your choices. Most importantly, you should understand your plan and ensure that it passes along more than just your money.

Do it yourself estate planning is risky. While it may be better than nothing, it may also be worse. And it won’t be until after you are gone that your loved ones find out that answer.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

I’ve always believed “the buck stops here” regarding protecting and providing for my family, no matter what. They are my responsibility, period. One of the ways that feeling manifests itself in me is that I’ve always had a stockpile of supplies, food, and water to last my family for months if normal services and goods aren’t available for whatever reason. My wife’s continually given me a hard time about the corner of the garage dedicated toward that endeavor until this weekend when she abruptly asked, “do we have enough food and water to get us through a quarantine if that happens?” I smiled, smugly, and responded, “we’re good; we’ll be okay.”

But while much of the focus has been on how to prevent catching the Coronavirus, or what to stock up on to survive if the pandemic wallops the U.S. like it has elsewhere, little has been mentioned on how to best legally and financially prepare for such a scenario. We know from what’s happening abroad that national economies as well as individual families are taking big financial hits in lost wages, not to mention the medical nightmare many people find themselves in. While panic and overreaction do more harm than good, I’m a big believer that you should always have your eyes wide open and ensure your family is prepared for these kinds of possibilities.

Here are five important tips to help you best prepare for the legal and financial aspects of a local Coronavirus epidemic or quarantine:

  1. Make Sure Your Medical Power of Attorney Is Accessible. Completing your medical power of attorney where you formalized your wishes for your medical care was a great first step, but make sure it would be accessible if/when it’s needed. Make sure the person you appointed to make your medical decisions if you are seriously ill or incapacitated knows where you keep the document. Also, file a copy with your primary care physician so it’s available through that avenue well before it’s needed, thus avoiding delays or confusion. If you have minor children, make sure they have a medical power of attorney as well, something we include with every Child Protection Plan.
  • Nominate Temporary Guardians for Minor Children. Most estate plans will include a provision in a parent’s will nominating permanent guardians to raise their children if the parent passes away. However, few law firms offer a Nomination of Temporary Guardian form as well. Temporary guardians (AKA first responders) are 3-4 designated family members or friends who live within 20 minutes and have legal permission to care for your children in an emergency scenario (thus significantly limiting the chances that the State would have to step in). If you have not named temporary guardians for your children, you should contact your estate planning attorney right away.
  • Make Sure You Have Enough Life Insurance. In my role as an estate planner, it surprises me how many families are either uninsured or considerably underinsured. Having a lone life insurance policy through your employer is rarely enough to cover what your family would need if you were to pass away during your working years. Plus, sometimes there are limiting provisions in those work policies requiring the death be caused by an “accident” as opposed to an illness such as the Coronavirus. You need to know how much life insurance you have and the exact death scenarios your policy covers. If you are not 100% certain that your existing insurance policies would cover your family’s needs, you should arrange for your existing life insurance policies to be reviewed by a trusted life insurance professional. Ask me for a referral if you don’t already have a trusted advisor in your corner.
  • Have an Emergency Fund. A Coronavirus quarantine is likely to last 2-3 week, which is a significant amount of time to lose out on a paycheck or have your business shut down. Beyond that, a mass quarantine would certainly affect our overall economy, causing residual effects to your finances over time. Most people do not have more than $1,000 in emergency funds, according to financial expert Suze Orman. She recommends that families save at least eight-months’ worth of living expenses in non-retirement/accessible financial accounts to be sufficiently prepared for any unexpected life event. For business owners, you also need to have enough financial reserves for your business as well.
  • Make Sure Your Trust is Funded. Setting up an estate plan is a great first step to protecting your loved ones in an emergency, illness, or death, as it ensures that your loved ones would be financially, emotionally, and physically taken care of. However, too many people fail to properly transfer their assets to their trust. Your estate planning attorney should help you make sure that your bank accounts, brokerage accounts, business interests, life insurance policies, real properties, retirement accounts, and your other financial assets are all properly connected to your trust. Without completing this very important step, those assets left outside your trust are subject to probate proceedings.

While individually, none of us can control a Coronavirus epidemic or quarantine from happening here, we can certainly make sure our families are legally and financially prepared. Call your trusted advisor or start by scheduling a complimentary planning session with a member of our team if you are not yet prepared, or to have your existing estate plan reviewed to ensure it has you as prepared as you should be.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

If you have pets, I’m sure you love them, but you may not have not provided any written or, better yet, legally documented instructions about what should happen to them if you become incapacitated or when you die. If you have, read this article with an eye to ensuring you’ve checked all the right boxes. If you haven’t, read on because it’s time to act, and this knowledge will make it easier for you to do things right.

Let’s start by looking at what happens if you become incapacitated or when you die if you’ve done nothing to ensure the well-being and care of your pets. It may be that if you do nothing, one or more of your friends and family will step forward to take care of your pets. But, will the person who steps forward be the person you would choose? And, will they take care of your pets the way you want?

If you do care, you need to take action rather than just leaving the well-being and care of your pets to chance. If you don’t designate at least one person, and ideally one person plus backups to care for your pets, and provide instructions to the people you’ve named, and perhaps also money to support the care of your pets, your pets could become a burden to your friends and family, or even end up at the humane society.

Steps to Plan for Your Pet’s Care in Your Estate Plan
So, step one in all circumstances is to legally name the people you would want to care for your pets in the event you cannot.

Step two is to give the people you’ve named specific instructions about how you want your pets to be cared for if you cannot do it including type and amounts of food, any medications needed, exercise plan, and any other special things you know about your pets that any caretaker should know.

Finally, step three is to consider whether you need to provide financial resources to care for your pets.

If your pet has any special needs, or if you want to provide funding for training, regular exercise, or a certain kind of food or care, it’s up to you to provide the financial resources to the people you’ve named to take care of your pets. All of this can be included as part of your comprehensive estate plan.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

As you no doubt already know, on January 26, 2020, basketball legend Kobe Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash on a wooded hillside 30 miles north of Los Angeles. Also killed in the tragic accident was his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven other passengers who were friends and colleagues of Kobe and his family. Kobe’s survived by his wife Vanessa and three other daughters: Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3, and Capri, 7 months.  The exact cause of the crash remains under investigation.

Kobe’s sudden death at age 41 has led to a huge outpouring of grief from fans across the world. Whenever someone so beloved dies so young, it highlights just how critical it is for every adult—but especially those with young children—to create an estate plan to ensure their loved ones are properly protected and provided for when they die or in the event of their incapacity.

While it’s too early to know the exact details of Kobe’s estate plan (and he very well may have planning vehicles in place to keep the public from ever knowing the full details), we can still learn from the issues his family and estate are likely to face in the aftermath of his death. I’m covering these issues in hopes that it will inspire you to remember that life is not guaranteed, every day is a gift, and your loved ones are counting on you to do the right thing for them now.

Kobe’s sports and business empire
Between his salary and endorsements during his 20-year career with the L.A. Lakers, Kobe earned an estimated $680 million. And that’s not counting the money he made from his numerous business ventures, licensing rights for his likeness, and extensive venture capital investments following his retirement from the NBA.

Given his business acumen and length of time in the spotlight, it’s highly unlikely Kobe died without at least some planning in place to protect his assets and his family. But even if Kobe did have a plan, when someone so young, wealthy, and successful passes away this unexpectedly in such a terrible accident, his family and estate will almost certainly face some potential threats and complications.

For example, due to his extreme wealth, Kobe likely created trusts and other planning strategies to remove some of his assets from his estate in order to reduce his federal estate-tax liability. However, because he was so young and still actively involved in numerous business ventures, it’s quite unlikely that all—or even the majority—of his assets had been fully transferred into those protective planning vehicles.

And seeing that Kobe owned the helicopter and the weather at the time was poor (many other flights had already been grounded), there’s also the real potential that the families of those killed in the crash will file civil lawsuits against his estate. Regardless of how extensive Kobe’s estate plan is, it’s doubtful that the lawyers who drafted his plan considered the possibility of so many potential wrongful-death lawsuits.

Here’s the bottom line: the post-death handling of Kobe’s affairs is surely going to be complicated. Though you almost certainly don’t have a Kobe-size estate to pass on, that makes it even more important for you to handle your planning—and really get it done right. Kobe’s family can afford years in court, lawyers upon lawyers, and a loss of some assets to taxes and lawsuits. Your family, on the other hand, probably cannot.

Trusted support when it’s needed most
Since Kobe’s wife Vanessa survives him, and it’s been widely reported that they married without a prenuptial agreement, it’s most likely that she will inherit everything. And due to the “spousal exemption,” those assets will pass to her tax free. Yet despite the protection from estate taxes, if she does inherit everything directly, all the estate-planning, financial-planning, business-management, and wealth-preservation responsibilities for Kobe’s immense fortune will now pass to Vanessa.

That’s an overwhelming responsibility, especially while she’s mourning the loss of both her husband and child, as well as parenting three other daughters who’ve just lost their father and sister. Given the vast scope of Kobe’s estate, ongoing business ventures, and likelihood of lawsuits and other legal complications, Vanessa will need the advice and support of her trusted counsel now more than ever. And I do hope she has that support, and that it was established well before this point in time.

Unfortunately, many estate planning firms do not engage with the whole family when creating estate plans and the associated legal documents, leaving the spouse and other family members largely out of the loop. Though we can’t know if this was the case with Kobe’s lawyers, such situations occur frequently enough that there’s a real possibility this could be true for Vanessa as well.

Don’t let such a scenario be true for your family. There is immense value in not only getting your estate planning handled now, but also in accomplishing that with a family-centered law firm as your partner.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

In the aftermath of rapper Nipsey Hussle’s murder this March, his family and ex-girlfriend have been locked in a bitter battle for custody of one of his young children. And as this ugly drama plays out in the courtroom and tabloids, it highlights the single-most costly estate-planning mistake a parent can make.

Hussle, 34, was gunned down outside his South Los Angeles clothing store in March. The young rapper’s death was tragic on many levels. But perhaps most tragic is what’s happening to Hussle’s kids. Because Hussle never named legal guardians, the decision of who will raise his two children—daughter Emani, 10, and son Kross, 2—is now up to the courts. And this mistake is already having unfortunate consequences. 

In addition to not naming guardians for his kids, Hussle also failed to create a will, which makes their guardianship even more contentious. Hussle’s estate is estimated to be worth $2 million, and under California law, in the absence of a will, that money is to be split equally between his two kids. 

Given that both children are minors, however, they’re ineligible to access their inheritance until they reach the age of majority. This means that whomever ultimately wins guardianship of the children will likely gain control over their money as well.

Caught in the middle
Guardianship of Hussle’s son Kross, while still undecided, is currently not a source of conflict. Who will be awarded guardianship of Hussle’s daughter Emani, however, is very much in contention.

Since the day of the shooting, Hussle’s sister, Samantha Smith, has been caring for Emani. Following Hussle’s shooting, Smith petitioned the court to obtain Emani’s guardianship. But Emani’s mother, Tanisha Foster, an old girlfriend of Hussle’s, is also seeking guardianship.

The competing parties have filed court documents alleging criminal conduct and making other terrible accusations against each other.  This war is taking its toll on the whole family with poor Emani caught in the middle.

Don’t leave your child’s life in a judge’s hands
As Hussle’s case so dramatically demonstrates, if you’re the parent of minor children, it’s imperative that you select and legally document long-term guardians for your kids. In fact, as a parent, naming guardians for your children should be your number-one planning priority.

The fact that Hussle didn’t create a will is obviously another terrible mistake. But when it comes to your children’s well-being, all the money in the world is meaningless in comparison. For this reason, I’m going to focus solely on the consequences resulting from Hussle’s failure to name legal guardians, and how easily this whole ugly mess could have been avoided.

As we’re seeing with Hussle, leaving it up to the court to name guardians for your kids
can lead to conflict, as otherwise well-meaning family members fight one another over custody. This process is not only costly, but it can be terribly traumatizing for everyone involved, especially your kids.

Hussle’s case also shows how agonizingly slow this process often is. There have already been numerous court hearings related to Emani’s custody since her father’s death in March, and the saga remains ongoing. Indeed, these custody battles often drag on for years, making the lawyers wealthy, while your kids are stuck in the middle.

But the most tragic consequence of Hussle’s failure to name legal guardians is that a judge will be the one who decides who’s best suited to care for his kids.

Though we can’t be sure exactly who Hussle would have wanted to raise Emani, it’s almost certain he wouldn’t have wanted a total stranger to make that decision for him. Yet, because he didn’t take the time to document legal guardians, that’s exactly what’s going to happen.

Child Protection Planning
A Child Protection Plan™ is a comprehensive methodology to guide you step-by step through the process of legally documenting guardians for your kids for the short-term, long-term, and so much more. If you are a parent, you absolutely must put in place a Child Protection Plan™ for your minor children and/or children with special needs.

Get started immediately
Because naming legal guardians for your kids is so critical, you can’t afford to wait to get the process started.

You must name long-term guardians and grant the people you choose (along with backups) the legal authority to temporarily care for your children, until the long-term guardians can be located and granted custody by the court. And you should also confidentially exclude any person you know you’d never want to raise your kids.

A Child Protection Plan™  provides for the well-being and care of your kids no matter what happens to ensure your family never falls victim to the same tragic circumstances as Hussle’s.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

In a recent Facebook post “Processes to go through with your parents before they die,” Daniel Schmachtenberger, founder of the Critical Path Institute, outlined seven simple exercises to use with your parents that can offer significant healing and completion for their life and yours.

While Daniel shared these processes in the context of the impending death of a parent, the reality is that your parents are heading toward death, even if there is no official diagnosis. And starting these processes when mortality isn’t immediately on the table is even better.
 
1. Help them make a timeline of their life
Create a timeline of all the big events in their life, starting with birth and their earliest memories up to the present. This is a great way to get to know them even better while you still can. Recalling their life through these stories can help them harvest the gifts, relive the good times, and identify any areas that still feel unresolved.

There are apps for creating timelines, but it’s easily done with pen and paper. Create the timeline by writing “birth” on the far left of the page, and draw a horizontal line going towards “death” on the far right. Experiences are placed on the line chronologically in the order they occurred. Positive experiences are depicted as vertical lines going up from the horizontal line, and difficult experiences as lines going down. Write short descriptions to correspond with each experience.

One way to help prompt memories is to ask questions about different people, places, and things from their past: romantic relationships, jobs, and places they lived. Going through old photos, letters, and music can also trigger meaningful memories.

When documenting their life events, the positive experiences can simply be recalled and enjoyed. For the negative ones, you can ask them what they learned from the experience and write that lesson in the description. In this way, you can find beauty and meaning in all of it.

2. Relationship healing
To foster healing in your personal relationship with them, focus on three areas:

  • Peacemaking: Forgive them for any way they hurt you, and help them forgive themselves. Apologize for the ways you hurt them. You want to ensure that neither of you feels any residual pain (resentment, guilt, or remorse) in the relationship.
  • Appreciation and gratitude: Write them a letter detailing everything you learned from them and all the positive experiences you had together. Go deep within to discover all they did for you, really appreciate it, and use the letter to help them feel your appreciation. Pinpoint any of their virtues you hope to embody most in your life and share that commitment with them, so they know they’ll live on through you once they’re gone.
  • Reassurance: It’s common for parents to resist leaving you over concerns for your future well-being. Reassure them that you are alright, will be alright, and it’s okay for them to go. Using estate planning to help them get their affairs in order is a major part of this.

3. Family healing
If possible, help other family members go through the above healing process with your parents. Help your dying parent make peace with everyone in their life, even if some individuals can’t speak directly with them. Reassure them that you’ll help take care of those loved ones who are in the most need.

4. Wisdom gathering
Ask them for life advice on anything and everything you can think of. As the old African proverb says, “Every time an old person dies, a library burns,” so make sure to write down or record as much of their personal wisdom as possible.

5. Bucket list
To make the most of the time you have left, ask them if there’s anything they really want to experience before they go, and fulfill as many of these bucket-list items as you can.

6. Help them see how they touched the world
In addition to documenting the positive impact they’ve had on your life, help them inventory all of the meaningful ways they’ve touched the lives of others. You want them to clearly see all of the beauty and meaning their life has brought to the world.

7. Help them be at peace with passing
While the above steps can help bring them peace, if they experience any fear of death, do your best to help them move through that. When death comes, you want them to be ready to greet him as an old friend.

If they practice a particular religion, you can recite their favorite verses, hymns, and/or prayers. Or they might find comfort in hearing their most beloved poems or songs. Silent or guided meditation is often helpful as well. But sometimes, simply offering them your loving presence and holding their hand is enough.

Preserving your family’s intangible assets
The life stories, lessons, and values that come from these final conversations can be among the most precious of all your family’s assets. And to make sure these gifts aren’t lost forever, we’ve developed our own process for preserving and passing on these intangible assets.

Indeed, we consider such legacy planning so important, this service is included with every estate plan we create. Using a series of helpful questions and prompts like the exercises Daniel outlines, we’ll guide you to create a customized video in which you share your most insightful memories and experiences with those you’re leaving behind. 
 
Though estate planning is mainly viewed as a way to pass on your financial wealth and property, when done right, it also enables you to preserve and pass on your true legacy: your memories, values, and wisdom. With the right support, having these all-important conversations doesn’t have to be intimidating or awkward at all.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

Marc