Oprah

Oprah’s Having an Estate Sale!

Yes, you read that correctly. And no, Oprah’s not dead.

So why is Estate Dispatch running another celebrity headline? Well, as Huffington Post and a variety of other sources report, Oprah really is having a massive estate sale. And let’s face it, most people would rather catch up on Oprah gossip than read estate planning news.

Don’t worry. We haven’t actually given up on the thrill of writing about estate planning. In fact, we see this sale as an excellent opportunity to teach the uneducated masses that “estate” doesn’t always refer to a mansion in the country or possessions of the dead. This star-studded sale may be just the ticket to engaging your potential client network into thinking about their own planning and the orderly disposition of their worldly possessions.

If you’ve got celebrity arrows in your quiver, use them! Like it or not, celebrities can make our work sound more interesting and can help drive home the need for estate planning. After all, nobody wants to end up with a messy estate like James Gandolfini, or left wondering about the future of their digital assets like Bruce Willis. Heck, with all of the proceeds from Oprah’s sale going to her Academy for Girls in South Africa, you could even launch into a discussion about charitable giving. Whatever your angle, you’re welcome for the suggestion.

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A Celebrity Executor’s Duties are Never Done

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While plenty of estate executors find themselves with very short term work – especially when working with an estate with more debt than assets, it seems celebrity executors (and undoubtedly the attorneys advising the estate) may never find themselves wanting for work.

More than 4 years after Michael Jackson’s death, a new lawsuit was filed by his estate (described in this article) against a Japanese product manufacturer of Jocko trinkets. In fact, The Gloved One’s estate erased nearly $500 million in debt after Jackson’s death and keeps churning out new products. It even opened a Las Vegas Cirque-du-Soleil show this year and is considering additional releases of Jackson-related material.

The rest of us, it seems, are stuck with the rather pedestrian duty of serving the best needs of our clients facing one of the most difficult times in their lives. Admittedly, I probably wouldn’t turn down the celebrity work, but I think I find the pedestrian stuff more satisfying.

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Adviser’s Death Can Leave Clients Scrambling

Today’s Wall Street Journal discusses the extraordinary risks clients face when they use the services of an adviser who fails to plan for his or her own business and client succession.

It is not lost on Estate Dispatch that most of our readers are estate attorneys. The absurdity of reminding our dear readers of the importance of planning for their own death is inescapable. But raise your hand if you’ve still got work to do in this area . . . yeah, that’s what we thought.

The article focuses attention on financial advisers and the difficulties created when multi-million dollar asset portfolios suddenly lack a manager. Lucky for us, the article does not point out how many estate attorneys fail to practice what they preach. But that certainly doesn’t mean the problem isn’t huge and your clients wouldn’t scramble.

The Wall Street Journal article is a good reminder to all of us, and especially our small and solo adviser readers, to reflect on their own plans. These days, with excellent and inexpensive online estate management tools, niche consultants, and a seemingly endless wealth of stories that remind us of the importance of a plan, there is no excuse for failing to take advantage of some relatively easy resources to make sure your clients and loved ones aren’t citing your ghost and your late practice as a warning to others.

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What Your Clients Aren’t Telling You Will Hurt Them

I know a lawyer who has a reminder on the wall of her office that goes something like this:

  1. Your client isn’t telling you something.
  2. What your client isn’t telling you is important.
  3. What your client isn’t telling you will come out.
  4. What your client isn’t telling you will come out at the worst possible moment.

When it comes to estate planning, the worst possible moment is generally going to be after your client is dead, and long after you could have done anything to fix the problem.

The reason your client isn’t telling you something is not, necessarily, that they are hiding it. When it comes to legal matters, clients often don’t understand what’s important and what isn’t. As the lawyer, you have to dig out all the important bits, because if you forget to ask about something that turns out to be important, you are probably going to be the one blamed for the omission.

For detailed information on the sorts of things your clients probably aren’t telling you, and why, see this report from Securian (via Elder Law Prof Blog).

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Graduation Gift Idea: An Estate Plan

According to the Wall Street Journal, an estate plan makes a great graduation gift. It’s not actually a bad idea. Once someone reaches 18, they are adults, which means that:

if your child were to lose the ability to make or communicate decisions, medical professionals might refuse to consult with or even release information to you, says Christina Vidoli, a Boston-based attorney at Margolis & Bloom, which specializes in estate planning. Without proper documents, parents generally can’t access a child’s financial accounts, either.

College students ought to have a health-care proxy and HIPAA release, as well as a financial power of attorney, although they probably don’t need a will. That way, if something happens, parents can step in to help with medical care and access their child’s account to pay bills.

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First Lady of Finance’s Legacy Reduced to Her Chihuahua’s Inheritance

Here’s the headline in the NY Daily News: “Muriel Siebert will: Finance pioneer leaves thousands for pet Chihuahua named Monster Girl.”

Pets of deceased millionaires make for sensational headlines, but if you want to make sure your dog lives out its days in happiness, you’ll want to provide for its care and feeding. That’s what Muriel Siebert was doing. The $100,000 goes to her friend, Lynda Fox-Frazer, who will be the dog’s caretaker. She left another $100,000 chunk to the dog’s vet.

Sure, those are generous amounts, but Siebert could afford it. Her sister got another $1.5 million, and most of her remaining estate goes to her non-profit.

The bigger news here is not Siebert’s chibuahua’s inheritance, but who she was and what she did. From Wikipedia:

[Siebert was] known as The First Woman of Finance, and the first woman to own a seat on the New York Stock Exchange and was the first woman to head one of the NYSE’s member firms. She joined the 1,365 male members of the exchange on December 28, 1967.

Here’s how the NY Daily News diluted that same background:

Siebert, the first woman to hold a seat on the New York Stock Exchange, bequeathed the money to Monster Girl via her friend Lynda Fox-Frazer, who inherited the pet.

I’m sure Siebert didn’t expect her legacy to be buried under a lede about her dog’s inheritance.

(image: New York Daily News)

Karin Prangley on the Importance of Your Clients’ Digital Assets

Karin Prangley, author of the American Bar Association Guide to Wills and Estates, Fourth Edition on why it’s important to consider your clients’ digital assets:

Ten years ago, when I had a client that passed away, I would send a paralegal or assistant out to the home to start looking to see what the important documents were and what the important pieces of this person’s financial life were. And I had my assistant do that by looking through the mail and through the important papers of the client. All of that information is now online. It’s in their email account. It’s in their online banking account. So if something — especially unexpectedly — happens to a loved one, how do you unlock all that important financial data? And I’ll tell you, it’s not easy.

At a bare minimum, you need to do an inventory of your clients’ digital assets — or insist that they do it. Better yet, help them store their usernames, passwords, and any instructions in a secure vault like Estate Map that will make the information available at the appropriate time.

Because planning for your clients’ digital assets is not optional.

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Who Buys These Canned Estate Planning Videos?

While looking to see what kind of video estate planning lawyers are putting on YouTube, these videos, all identical, popped up. Collectively, they have 7 views on YouTube. It certainly cost the financial advisors more than the value of those 7 views (a few cents) to purchase the stock videos, complete with gramatically-incorrect descriptions.

Setting aside for the moment the question of whether lawyers ought to be putting resources into marketing by video in the first place, and also the issue of whether it’s a good idea to use “ghostwritten” videos (it’s not), these videos are delivering zero value to anyone. The same resources would have been much better spent having coffee with former clients or potential referral sources.

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An Online Account Inventory Can Save Anxiety for Heirs

The checklist of end-of-life decisions is long, and Facebook accounts probably aren’t at the top for many people. But like a deceased loved one’s voice on an answering machine, a Facebook account can be a painful reminder. And it’s not just Facebook. Automated online bill payments could keep going, diminishing the estate. Or online utility bill payments that should keep getting paid might not, if they aren’t set up for automatic payment. There are good reasons folks are discussing this.

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