Media mogul Sumner Redstone – owner of CBS and Viacom, among other holdings – allegedly created quite an estate planning mess, according to a recent report in the New York Times. A June 2nd article reports that “with a fortune estimated at over $5 billion, Sumner M. Redstone could afford the best estate planning that money could buy. What he ended up with is a mess — no matter the outcome of the welter of lawsuits swirling around him.”


Here are five lessons from the business titan’s problems:


  1. Avoid making decisions that could complicate both your public image and your business situation. The New York Times reported that “A lawsuit brought by Manuela Herzer, one of Mr. Redstone’s late-in-life romantic partners, stripped him of whatever dignity he might have hoped to retain by publicly revealing humiliating details about his physical and sexual appetites and his diminishing mental capacity.”


  1. Define “incapacity.” Mr. Redstone did (smartly) establish an irrevocable trust. However, his case is also a cautionary tale: if you’re going to tie asset transfers or succession plans to your own mental state, you must define “incapacity.” If you don’t, the state will. A seemingly trivial semantic argument like that could tie your estate up in court for years, pitting family members against one another in an embarrassing public battle.


  1. Create a clear succession plan. Leave no doubt. Clarify how your businesses will be managed and by whom. Step down from leadership while you are mentally capable of making that decision, and give a safe and clear hand off to your successor. If you can, it’s much better to be deliberate and thoughtful about handoffs of authority, rather than waiting until things become unmanageable.


  1. Make crystal clear what role your children will play once you are gone. Disenfranchised or estranged family members can wreak havoc on your fortune if you don’t clarify what roles they will play in your business, your trusts, and your legacy after you are gone. If you don’t spell out those roles, a court will. If you really want to, you can disinherit someone. But, you need to make sure you do it the right way for it to be legally effective.


  1. Hire a qualified lawyer to troubleshoot your plan and help you game out contingencies. A lawyer with significant estate planning experience can help you deal both with the “known unknowns” and the “unknown unknowns” that can throw your estate planning strategy off course. The more complex your estate is, the more involved your attorney should be.

So you’ve done the hard work of establishing an estate plan. Good on you, as they say across the Pond. However, you still have serious work to do to ensure that the strategy you’ve selected will maximize your peace of mind and protect your legacy.


Estate plans are living, breathing creations. Your life can and will change due to new births, children getting older and other shifts in the family; changes to your portfolio, career and business; and changes to your health, where you live and your core values. Likewise, external events, such as tax legislation passed in your state or the development of a novel financial instrument, can throw your plan off track or open the door to opportunities.


Obviously, you want to do due diligence without spending inordinate amounts of time noodling over your plan. Good enough should be good enough. To that end, ask yourself the following “stress test” questions to assess whether you need to meet with an estate planning attorney to update your approach:


  1. When was the last time you updated your will or living trust? Since then, have you had new children or gotten divorced? Have you moved to a new state, opened or sold a business, or just changed your mind about the type of legacy you want to leave behind? Especially if big, tangible life events have occurred, strongly consider updating your documents as soon as possible against all else.


  1. Who have you named as executor and trustee? If you had to start your planning over from scratch today, would you still make the same decisions? If not, why not?


  1. Do you have adequate insurance? Many people do not have enough insurance for themselves or their businesses. They also fail to name contingent beneficiaries. Get your insurance policies in order.


  1. How much of your property is jointly owned with someone other than your spouse? Jointly owned property has the potential to be double taxed. Take a look at your real property and seek advice on the proper adjustments to make in order to save on taxes when it’s really necessary to save on taxes.


  1. How’s your record keeping? Nothing drives an executor crazy like sloppy record keeping.


  1. When was the last time you gave your plan a thorough once-over? Even if nothing “huge” has happened in your life recently, if it’s been over five years since a qualified estate planning attorney has assessed your strategy, schedule a time to meet. Identify any issues, and iron out the kinks one at a time.

There’s an entire category of commonly-overlooked legacy to consider – digital assets. Don’t worry if you didn’t consider these assets when made your will or trust – it’s surprisingly common and, luckily, easy to correct.


What are digital assets? They include:


  • your photos (yes, all those selfies are a digital asset),
  • files stored in the cloud or on your local computer,
  • virtual currency accounts,
  • URLs,
  • social media profiles (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.)
  • device backups,
  • databases,
  • digital business documents, and
  • because technology is ever-evolving, much more will be added as the months and years go by.


These assets can have real value, such as virtual currency accounts, a URL, or digital business assets. So, you can no longer adopt a wait-and-see approach for these assets. Whether you proactively plan or not, your legacy now includes more than the inheritance you want to pass along, your family heirlooms, and general assets. You must now consider your digital assets.


So, here are 3 tips to get you started.  


  1. Inventory your digital assets. Make a list of every online account you use. If you run a business, don’t forget spreadsheets, digital records, client files, databases, and other digital business documents, although those should probably be part of your business succession plan. If it exists in cyberspace, connects to it or pertains to it, put it on the list for your attorney and executor.


  1. Designate a cyber successor. A cyber successor is someone you trust who can access your accounts and perform business on your behalf after you are gone or in the event you are incapacitated. Make sure they can access your accounts in a timely manner. Safeguard your list, so that it doesn’t end up being vulnerable to unauthorized access, identity theft, data loss, or worse.


  1. Determine the necessary documents for your estate, and make a record of your wishes. You may want to put some of your digital assets into a trust or even include specific access in a power of attorney. Consult with an estate planning attorney to determine the best way to determine your successors, trustees, and beneficiaries, and then make sure the right documents or designations are in place so access can be made when it’s needed. The laws in this arena are evolving, so any planning you’ve done in the past probably needs an update.


Potential Pitfalls of Cyber Estate Planning


The worst thing you can do is nothing. This could result in the loss of digital family photo albums, disruption of your business if you’re incapacitated, or worse. If this process feels daunting or you’re still not sure where or how to start, give us a call. We can help you identify, track, and protect your digital assets to give you peace of mind.

As poet Robert Burns mused centuries ago, The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Despite thoughtful effort and a concerted strategy, you cannot prepare for every emergency. A car accident, sudden illness, workplace injury or chronic medical condition can force you to re-evaluate the core assumptions you used to plan your future and set up your legacy.

A 2015 report published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offered this sobering assessment: In 2013, approximately one in five U.S. adults reported any disability, with state-level prevalence of any disability ranging from 16.4% in Minnesota to 31.5% in Alabama. The CDC also reported that annual disability-associated health care expenditures were estimated at nearly $400 billion in 2006, with over half attributable to costs related to non-independent living (e.g., institutional care, personal care services).

Frustratingly, you cant turn back the clock. However, you can take meaningful actions to protect your legacy and estate in the wake of your newfound limitations. Here are some insights to that end:


Work with a qualified estate planning attorney to ensure that:


  • Theres an authorized person to make financial and healthcare decisions for you if you become mentally or physically unable to do so yourself.
  • Theres also an authorized person to manage your property, pay your bills, file your taxes and handle similar business if youre unable to do these tasks.
  • Your wishes about health care decisions, such as end of life care and do-not-resuscitate instructions, have been communicated in a legally valid and binding manner.


Get a recommendation from your estate planning attorney or your financial advisor, who can help you take additional actions, such as:


  • Ensuring that you have appropriate insurance.
  • Reassessing your investment options and portfolio in light of your new limitations and constraints on your ability to generate income.
  • Making sure that you have a budget that works and that your bills will all get paid on time.


Mind this important distinction:


Be advised that disability for legal purposes is different than disability for financial planning purposes.


For example, disability for financial purposes might mean you cant work gainfully anymore because of cancer or a workplace injury. On the other hand, incapacity in an estate planning context typically means that a person is no longer capable of making sound decisions, often due to systemic illness or injury. 


In other words, you can be disabled for financial/insurance purposes and be non-disabled for legal purposes. However, almost anyone who is disabled for legal purposes would also be considered disabled for financial purposes.


Either way, its important for us to work together with your financial advisor to make sure you and your family are fully protected.


Take these actions on your own:


  • Pay attention to where your money is going as well as to your long term planning strategy. Your estate planning attorney can help you assess whether your current plans are still realistic and, if not, what alternative options you have.
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle. For instance, cut down on added sugars and refined vegetable oils and be sure to eat enough vegetables, protein, and healthy fats.
  • Get the help you need from trusted professionals. Now is the time to tap your friends and family and network for assistance with the heavy lifting. No single advisor will have all the answers. But your team can work in concert to reduce the anxiety and uncertainty and keep you focused on what really matters.


Please reach out to us to assess your long term plans and documents and make sure you are as secure as possible in light of your new challenges.

Are you failing your family the way these 4 celebrities failed theirs?


These four celebrity estate planning fiascos offer lessons about how to handle your own planning and legacies.


  1. Pablo Picasso The great Dada artist died in 1973 at 91 without a will, a status referred to as intestate. Of course, Picasso isn’t the first, or the last, celebrity to die intestate. However, after he died, his six heirs fought for six years over the wealth of assets he left behind. One lesson for us: Make sure you have your estate planning documents in place before you go.


  1. Heath Ledger It was a huge surprise, and disappointment, to millions of adoring fans when Heath Ledger died in 2008 at the age of 28. He did leave a will. Unfortunately, he didn’t update the will after the birth of his daughter. Fortunately for his daughter, the family decided to include her in the inheritance, which proves that sometimes people do the right thing. But what if his family had insisted instead on the terms of Heaths will? One lesson for us: When theres a big change in your family situation (or when you have a life changing epiphany about your core values and legacy), update your plans accordingly. Do not assume that just because youre young and healthy that you will have lots of time to get things in order. Do not assume that, since you have a plan in place, itll automatically update to match your current desires and needs.


  1. Philip Seymour Hoffman Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman didn’t want his children to grow up as trust-fund babies. Fair enough, but he decided to leave his inheritance with his girlfriend, counting on her to care for his children on his behalf. The problem: there was no guarantee that would happen. Since the two weren’t married, Hoffman’s estate was hit with a huge tax. One lesson for us: A trust that includes your guidance about the proper use of the funds is better than hoping for the best with one that leaves your wishes undefined.


  1. Tom Clancy Author Tom Clancy left behind a huge fortune, but his estate planning documents weren’t clear about some of the important details. These issues led to drama for family members. One lesson for us: the more complicated your family, your assets, and your business dealings are, the more accurate, precise, and proactive you need to be in working with us on your estate plan.


Whether youre just starting to explore the need for estate planning or youre a seasoned veteran with a well-worn trust binder, we should all remember a few key points:


  • Have estate planning documents in place, even if youre young and healthy and think youll have plenty of time to get things in order later.
  • When theres a change in your family situation (marriage, birth, or death) or if youve changed your mind about something, update your plans accordingly. Do not assume that, since you have a plan in place, itll automatically update to match your current desires and needs.
  • Provide guidance to your family about how youd like them to use their inheritance. Do not rely on hope or verbal instructions. The best place for guidance is in your trust or in an intent letter that can help your trustee manage your trust.
  • If youre well-off or have complex assets, you need to work with your trust lawyer in a more proactive way to avoid potential missteps while still achieving your goals.


When you’re ready to draft your estate documents, give our attorneys a call to set an appointment.