Estate Planning Mistakes Made By The Rich and Famous

As an estate planning attorney, and a previous litigation attorney, I have seen my fair share of mistakes at the hands of individuals and businesses. However, when you make a mistake with your estate planning documents it may not be discovered until after your death, which may be many, many years in the future. In addition, even the very wealthy and rich can make very simple estate planning mistakes if they are not careful and specific with their planning. Here are just a few examples of the estate planning mistakes of the rich and famous.

  1. Heath Ledger

Heath Ledger played a number of great roles on the screen throughout his short career. However, Heath Ledger is also well known for a very common estate planning mistake. When Heath Ledger passed away unexpectedly he already had a will. However, his will left everything he owned at the time of his death to parents. Although, Heath Ledger also had a daughter at the time and failed to update his will prior to his death. Approximately five years after Heath Ledger died, the family decided that all of his assets should go to his daughter. Of course, had Heath Ledger updated his will prior to his death this delay would never have occurred.


  1. Michael Jackson

This is another estate planning mistake that could result in the Jackson estate being tied up in the courts for years to come. I am sure we all remember where we were when we heard that Michael Jackson died. However, it is likely that Michael Jackson’s estate will be tied up in the court for many years to come due in large part to unpaid taxes. The IRS is claiming that Jackson estate is worth hundreds of millions of dollars and perhaps over a billion dollars due to the royalties of music, film, and The Beatles royalties that were owned by Jackson at the time of his death. In addition, there is also the matter of Jackson’s wrongful death lawsuit, as well as the income the estate produces from royalties every year. Unfortunately, the Jackson estate could be in the courts for many years to come.


  1. James Gandolfini

James Gandolfini, most well known for his role as Tony Soprano on the HBO show The Sopranos, passed away unexpectedly while on vacation with his son in Italy. However, even though Gandolfini had created a large fortune and wealth for himself throughout his acting career prior to his death, he committed a rather simple estate planning mistake that resulted in a large portion of his estate being subject to unnecessary taxes. The unfortunate aspect of this mistake is that Gandolfini’s family’s inheritance will be reduced by a substantial federal estate tax bill. The federal estate tax only applies to those estates that have a gross value above $5.34 million on the date of death. However, those individuals that have a gross estate above the $5.34 million exemption can be subject to a federal estate tax with a top tax rate of 40%.


As you can see from the examples above, even the rich and famous can make common estate planning mistakes that can result in harm, delay, and stress for the family that they leave behind. However, how do you avoid estate planning mistakes that we discussed above and make things simple for the family that you leave behind? Well, before working with an estate planning attorney, it is important to make sure that the attorney has the following qualifications:

  1. The attorney practices exclusively in the area of estate planning and probate administration.
  2. Serves clients for a fixed and up front reasonable cost.
  3. Works with a team of additional estate planning attorneys as part of a multi-state estate planning law firm.
  4. The attorney guarantees professional and courteous service or you will get your payment back.
  5. The attorney explains estate planning concepts in an easy-to-understand format.
  6. Use a law firm and attorney referred by hundreds of others former clients acknowledging their fantastic service.
  7. Work with an attorney who regularly speaks and writes about important estate planning topics, trends, and changes.
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