The mistakes of others can often be instructive for our own situations. This is true in many areas of life, and estate planning is no exception. In some cases where we can learn from other people's estate planning mistakes, it may be a matter which is very specific and technical in nature. Oftentimes, though, we learn simpler lessons.
These include things like avoiding procrastination, being sure to update one's estate planning documents, and appointing people to make medical and financial decisions for us in the event we become incapacitated.
A lesson in procrastination would the sudden death of Steig Larsson, author of Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, the movie adaptation of which was recently released. Larsson died without a will, which gave rise to a lawsuit between his girlfriend of 32 years and other family members over his estate. Because of his failure to plan, he didn't get to decide where his estate will go, and he left quite a mess to clean up.
Our readers may have heard of the death of the late rhythm and blues singer Etta James last week. The 72-year-old James died at the age of 72 after struggling with leukemia, dementia and other medical problems.
James-who had two adult sons from prior relationships-reportedly gave one of them power of attorney, but her late husband challenged it since, according to him, it was signed after she already had dementia. The situation resulted in a lawsuit over who would control James' financial and medical decisions. Luckily, that case recently ended in a settlement, but not after much battling in court.
The elderly aren't the only ones who should appoint a power of attorney, though. Young people should also have them and keep them updated. Having these documents ready has prevented many a family fight and can saves numerous other troubles later on.
Source: Forbes, "Etta James, Others Remind of Need for Estate Planning in 2012," January 24, 2012.