SHERMAN OAKS, Calif.–LAWFUEL – Law News, Law Jobs – As Smith’s remains reach their final resting place in the Bahamas, the spirited battle for her body and its burial place is coming to an end. However, Smith’s surreal legacy is sure to live on, and practically speaking, there is a lot we can learn from it.
Charlie Douglas, J.D., AEP, CFP, is a nationally recognized expert, speaker, author and professional advisor in the estate and wealth management industry. Douglas is also the author of the recently released book, Rich Where it Counts (www.richwhereitcounts.com), which underscores the notion of prospering in what truly matters while passing on a principled legacy. His book has been endorsed by such notables as Dr. Ken Blanchard, Dr. Stephen Covey, Jack Kemp, William Bennett, Steve Forbes and Dr. Robert Schuller.
Douglas offers 5 practical things people should do to avoid repeating Smith’s myriad of mistakes:
1. Have an Up-to-Date Estate Plan
Drafted in 2001, a copy of Smith’s unsophisticated, 19-page will was sorely out of date. Her will left everything to her son, Daniel, who died in September of 2006. But Smith is not alone here in her failure to include provisions in case her sole beneficiary predeceased her. The truth is that most of us do not even have a will, and for those of us who do, there is a better than 50% chance that it is also outdated.
Additionally, Smith’s will was hotly disputed because the location of the original was unknown. All original estate planning documents (consisting of a will, a living will, a durable health care power of attorney, and a durable financial power of attorney) should be kept in a protected place like a safe deposit box that is known and accessible to your children or named executor.
2. Engage Competent Counsel
Like doctors, attorneys also practice in specialized areas. Clearly, none of us would want our general practitioner to be our heart surgeon, so why would we have an attorney who does not specialize in estate planning prepare our personal documents? In Smith’s case, her ambiguous will, apparently prepared by an attorney practicing in “Business” and “Personal” law, seems wrought with short-sided planning.
3. Protect Your Privacy
Instead of a will, which is subject to court administration and is a matter of public record, Smith may have been better off executing a living trust and transferring and/or assigning all of her assets to it while she was living. Unlike wills, living trusts are typically private matters among trustees and beneficiaries.
4. Don’t Use a Will Alone to Dispose of Your Remains
Smith clearly failed to state how she wanted her remains to be disposed of in her will. But wills are usually not the best place to state such intentions since a will may not be found or read until after the funeral and burial.
Instead, most states use and recognize a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. Had Smith executed this simple document, her designated agent could have easily directed the disposition of her remains.
5. Leave a Legacy that is Greater than Fame or Fortune
It’s too late for Anna Nicole Smith to rewrite her legacy and to pass on to her daughter, Dannielynn, the most valuable asset of all, a mother’s love. But for the rest of us, we still have the opportunity to pass on a principled legacy to those we care about that is far greater than money or notoriety.