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Brando and Taylor: 2 very different estate plans

In the past couple of months, we've discussed the estate plans of a number of well-known and disparate figures -- civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., the actor Paul Walker, and the musical spouses Captain and Tennille. From the outset, it may not seem that those individuals have much in common, but the reality is that everyone has an estate plan, even if you don't draft a will.

New Jersey probate laws provide that, in the absence of a will, the distribution of assets will be overseen by the probate court, and this situation can lead to disputes among family members. However, there are steps you can take, including the drafting of a will, to ensure that your wishes are honored and that your family is spared future disputes. With that in mind, let's consider the estate plans of two more celebrities.

In matters of estate planning, no one — neither the estate owner nor the heirs — should rely on verbal promises. Unfortunately, verbal promises were a much disputed and much litigated factor in the administration of actor Marlon Brando's estate. The actor died in 2004, and five years later, more than 24 lawsuits had been filed regarding his estate.

Brando had apparently promised assets to some of his employees, but the actor's estate planning documents didn't reflect those promises. If Brando had updated his will, then maybe the administration of his estate might have gone more smoothly.

The estate of actress Elizabeth Taylor is a different story. Taylor reportedly created a revocable living trust, whereby most of the trust assets were left to family members and charities. Taylor was also married eight times — a fact that would complicate any estate plan.

However, Taylor's estate was able to avoid probate, and reportedly there have been no legal disputes over the estate. This avoidance of family and business troubles is in large part attributable to Taylor's good use of a revocable living trust.

In our previous post — "Some things Paul Walker did right in his estate plan" — we discuss some of the benefits of creating and properly funding a trust.

Source: Forbes, "Oscar Winner Teach Five Lessons On Estate Planning," Danielle Mayoras and Andy Mayoras, March 2, 2014

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