Oct 18, 2010

Ambiguity turns estate plan into house of cards

You can learn a lot about estate planning from celebrities. Even if you're not into Hollywood gossip or have millions yourself, it's undeniable that their mistakes can help us learn what to do... and what not to do.

To make sure your wishes are carried out, it's critical that your documents be crystal clear. Where there is ambiguity, there is the potential for "interpretation," and the stage is set for conflict and possibly, costly litigation.

Take controversial actor Dennis Hopper, who died in May leaving behind an estate worth $25 million. When he married his fifth wife in 1996, a prenuptial agreement was drawn up stating that she would get 25% of his estate if they were still living together. It also stipulated that if either of them filed for divorce, she was to vacate the home they lived in within 60 days.

When Hopper filed for divorce in January, she indeed moved out of the "home" -- right into the guest house located on the compound property.

The question is, when Hopper died in May, were they still "living together?" She says yes. The trustees of the Hopper trust say no. You can be sure that this conflict will provide plenty of work for plenty of lawyers for a good time to come.

Do you have estate planning documents currently? Are you sure they are crystal clear? Do you want to draw up an estate plan that eliminates any trouble-making ambiguity? The attorneys of The Karp Law Firm can advise you.

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