Estate Lessons Learned from Celebrity Death: Stan Lee

Estate Lessons Learned from Celebrity Death: Stan Lee

by Angela C. Schulz, Associate Attorney

Stan Lee, the co-creator of superheroes like Spiderman, Iron Man, and the X-Men, passed away on November 12, 2018.

Mr. Lee reportedly left and estate valued at more than $50 million.  Prior to Mr. Lee’s death, reports also circulated of possible elder abuse, from Mr. Lee’s 67-year-old daughter spending $20,000 to $40,000 a month on credit cards and demanding changes to a trust set up for her benefit, to caregivers using their position of trust to gain access to Mr. Lee’s money.

Celebrity deaths can shed light on important estate planning lessons. Mr. Lee lived to be 95. Increasing numbers of people are also living into their 80s, 90s and 100s, yet many elders may not have the mental or physical faculties to manage their financial affairs during these later years. Even for those who do not have to worry about family fights or estate taxes, estate plans can still serve a valuable purpose in avoiding probate and ensuring privacy.

Additionally, estate planning frequently focuses on the details of wealth distribution upon death but not other vital considerations, such as aging and late-life planning.  Fortunately, however, prudent individuals can take steps to plan ahead, such as:

  • Consider drafting a healthcare power of attorney or advance health directive.  Very rarely can families and loved ones predict incapacity. However, putting protections in writing can provide family members and health care professionals with valuable guidance and clarity regarding your wishes in the event of mental or physical incapacity.
  • Consolidate financial accounts.  Shifting assets into fewer accounts can simplify a loved one’s balance sheet that and make finances easier to manage.
  • Consider a revocable living trust.  Wills protect individuals only after they have passed away, not while they are alive.  Individuals who put assets into a revocable living trust during their lifetime can gain valuable financial assistance as one ages.
  • Choose Qualified Trustees.   Prior to Mr. Lee’s death, Mr. Lee and his attorney filed a declaration in a Los Angeles court stating that certain caregivers and acquaintances were attempting to “gain control over [Mr. Lee’s] assets, property and money.”  Clients are frequently inclined to choose those closest to them as trustees, but that is often not the best approach. Even if the designated person is honest and reliable, the duties of a trustee are complex and demanding. Professional advisors or even institutional trustees are often a better alternative, especially for high-net-worth individuals.
  • Remember to Update Your Estate Plan.  An estate plan is a living document and should be frequently reviewed and updated.  Consider revisiting estate plans after major life changes, such as marriage, divorce, having a child, buying property, or even on birthdays ending in 0 or 5.

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