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Celebrities' successes and failures in estate planning

In our last post, we talked about some of the most effective ways to use an estate plan to meet your family's needs. Because many people learn best from examples, we will discuss the opposite estate planning decisions two celebrities made and the impact it had on their families.

Updating your documents after divorce. An important part of estate planning is making sure your documents match your current lifestyle and situation. When Gary Coleman divorced his wife, he did not change his will. For that matter, he did not even legally change his will when they were married. After the marriage, he added a handwritten addendum to his existing will. After his death, court battles ensued about whether they were legally still married, and therefore whether the handwritten requests were valid.

Updating your documents after marriage. Brittany Murphy made matters easier on her family by updating her documents after her marriage. In her original will, Murphy left the majority of her assets to her mother. Although she still wanted her mother to receive her assets when she was married, she updated her will regardless. Rather than leaving her will the same and letting her loved ones wonder whether it was up-to-date, she added a section specifying that her mother - not her husband - should receive the estate.

Anytime there is a change in your family dynamics, it is important to consider whether the changes will have an impact on the legacy you want to leave. The saying "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" could not be more applicable. Although it takes time and money to meet with an attorney, it will be a much smaller investment than allowing your loved ones to fight about it after your death.

Source: Forbes.com, "Estate Tax Lessons From George Steinbrenner, Gary Coleman and More," Andrew and Danielle Mayoras, 4 February 2011

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