Berman & Asbel, LLP

Sew the seeds of peace with a fully funded trust

Perhaps the number one rule in estate planning: put it in writing. If you're an asset owner or a potential heir, it is never a good idea to rely on verbal promises in matters of estate planning. Case in point: the estate of Marlon Brando. The famed actor died in 2004, and by 2009, two dozen legal disputes had erupted around his estate.

A major problem was that some of Brando's former employees claimed that he verbally promised to give them assets; however, the actor's will and trust made no mention of such promises. This unfortunate situation points to another important rule in estate planning: update your documents.

Looking at the estates of other deceased actors, we see that Elizabeth Taylor is one star who planned her estate remarkably well. Despite having been married eight times, Taylor managed to prevent future disputes over her estate by effectively using a trust. Since Taylor transferred many of her assets to fund the trust, we can't be sure of all of the details of her estate. This is actually a good thing.

While a will is certainly useful in making your wishes known, a will is also made public when it goes to probate. However, if you use a will to express your wish to transfer all of your assets into a trust, then the details of those assets remain out of probate (and private) because a properly written trust operates beyond the reach of probate.

As for Elizabeth Taylor's estate, the administration of assets was reportedly peaceful.

You, too, can sew the seeds of peace with a comprehensive estate plan.

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

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