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Planning Pays Off: An Illustrative Look at Carrie Fisher’s Semi-Failed Estate Plan

Posted on: October 23rd, 2017
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Whether your estate is modest or movie star worthy, the value of a good estate plan, properly handled, cannot be underestimated. A comprehensive plan can mean the difference between an expensive and unnecessary “time spent in court headache” for your loved ones or an easy “in your lawyer’s office” transition that allows your family time to grieve in peace.
 
When a high profile celebrity passes away, we can learn a lot about the value of careful planning when using their estate plan as a case study. Carrie Fisher, best known for her iconic role as Princess Leia in the highly successful Star Wars franchise, is one of the celebrities whose proactive, yet faulty, planning gives us an excellent example to illustrate some key points that are important for you to understand for your family. Her sudden passing came as a surprise and a heavy detriment to both family, friends, and fans worldwide.
 
Even though Carrie Fisher worked with some of the best lawyers in Los Angeles, and she had created a trust to hold her assets, her estate plan failed, in our opinion, because it didn’t keep her assets out of court and passing privately to her heir, Billie Catherine Lourd.
 
Instead, even though a Trust was created, Fisher’s assets were never transferred into the Trust. And while you may be surprised, it’s actually common practice. We see this all the time when clients come to us with prior prepared estate plans -- they’ve got documents that will not work when their families need them because their assets were never properly inventoried and transferred.

Fisher’s death brings this major issue in estate planning to light. As a result, Fisher’s Trustee, Dennis King, had to file a petition in probate court seeking to have Fisher’s assets transferred into her Trust.The whole point of creating a Trust is to keep your family out of court and keep your affairs totally private. Since Fisher’s Trust was not properly funded (the legal terminology for making sure your assets are transferred into Trust so you can keep everything private and out of court), all of her assets and who will receive them have been made public.
 
As a result, we know that Fisher left her estate to her daughter, Billie Lourd, and that it included cash accounts, several LLCs, real estate, a life insurance policy, personal belongings, and intellectual property rights. Having this information public leaves Lourd at risk. Unscrupulous parties now have access to details they wouldn’t otherwise know.

This is exactly why a key part of our planning process is a thorough inventory of your assets, ensuring your assets are transferred into your trust (if you choose to keep your family out of court) and then a review of your assets and planning documents at least every three years, if not annually.
 
Proper estate planning can keep your family out of court and save your family precious time and money in the process. If you’re ready to create a comprehensive estate plan, please contact us for an appointment.  And, if you already have a plan in place, contact us to have it reviewed.
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