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Celebrities Die Just Like the Rest of Us, Only with more Public Disputes

Last week saw the sad loss of 4 entertainment icons.  Some of my earliest memories of TV with my fatherat the age of 4 were of watching Ed McMahon as Johnny Carson's loyal sidekick.  Farrah Fawcett was, of course, my favorite Angel every Wednesday night, even if only for a single season (but my mother would not let me get the poster). Michael Jackson's "Thriller" was the defining music of my junior and senior years in high school.  And Billy Mays, while arguably not in quite the same legue, has been a constant pitch man on infomercials for the past decade, with a sort of honest, if not annoying, characteristic about him.

This cluster of deaths should remind us all of our own mortality, and the need to get our affairs in order.  Ed McMahon was survived by his wife, as I understand it, and so I do not anticipate his estate to be controversial, although media accounts of his indebtedness may leave little in the way of a legacy.  Little is known about Farrah Fawcett's and Billy Mays estates at this time.  But Michael Jackson's estate promises to be a media circus even larger and more complex than those of James Brown estate and Anna Nichole Smith all rolled into one.  Initial accounts indicate that there will be a Will contest over the existance and validitiy of at least 1 will.  Already we have seen initial custody battles over the three Jackson children, with no doubt, more to come.  There will be numerous creditor claims, not the least of which will likely be from more alleged sexual abuse victims whose previously supressed memories will now be lifted as a result of his death, and can now come forward with their claims against the Jackson estate. 

Sadly, Jackson's estate presents a compelling case for planning.  Nothing in his estate is unique other than its scale and his celebrety status.  But every one of the disputes that has been or will likely be raised in the Jackson estate I have seen first hand in numerous estates of regular people right here in Mississippi, not all in a single case, to be sure, but the disputes themselves are actually altogether too common.  Just as these types of disputes are all subject to occur in the estates of regular people, they are all also avoidable, both by regular people and superstars alike, with a little bit of proper planning.  A parents wishes for custody of their children can easily be handled through a declaration of their wishes in their will.  Creditor claims can frequently be avoided through a device such as life insurance payable to an irrevocable life insurance trust, or payable into a family sentry trust, to protect ones legacy against creditors.  Estate taxes can often be addressed through an ILIT along with numerous other planning mechanisms. 

There are a couple of lessons in the deaths of these 4 to all of us.  Death comes to us all, and with a little planning,we can make our passing a lot easier on our heirs.

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