Experience is undoubtedly the best teacher, but when it comes to estate planning you don’t have the luxury of learning from your mistakes. However, you can become wiser by observing the mistakes of others. Though you don’t have a window into the lives of people that you don’t know, the media gives us perhaps too much information about the lives of celebrities. Some of the stories surrounding the estates of famous people can be instructive as you are making your own plans for the future.
For example, think back to the very highly publicized case involving Anna Nicole Smith and the son of J. Howard Marshall. Marshall left Smith, to whom he was legally married at the time of his death, out of his will. The courts took her contention that he intended to leave her half of his fortune seriously, making the point that he wouldn’t have married her if he didn’t want to assume some financial responsibility for her well-being.
This matter played itself out for some 15 years before finally being resolved this past summer after both Smith and Marshall’s son were long dead. Had the elder Marshall stated his intentions more clearly with witnesses present this long drawn out battle may never have taken place.
There was an announcement recently involving another famous person who could have made better advance plans. 88-year-old billionaire Liliane Bettencourt was deemed incapable of handling her own financial affairs by a French court. Going back about three years her daughter initiated a suit contending that her mother was being manipulated by a photographer named Francois-Marie Banier. Banier somehow wound up with over $1 billion of the Bettencourt fortune and was named sole heir in a revised will.
As it turns out the daughter, Francoise Bettencourt-Meyer, and her two sons will be handling the family fortune under an order handed down by the court. Clearly, this case underscores the importance of intelligent incapacity planning when you are devising a comprehensive plan for aging
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