Britney Spears is not known for the making the wisest decisions. She has proven to be so poor at decision-making, that she has court-appointed conservators who oversee her financial affairs.
If reports are accurate, however, then Spears is making a wise estate planning decision.
She currently has a will that would leave all of her assets to her two minor sons, when she passes away. The will was written before her sons were born.
Spears would now like to change the distributions from her will, so a trust provides staggered distributions to her sons. Instead of giving her children everything immediately, the trust would distribute her assets over time, as they reach certain landmark ages.
The important thing to learn from Spears is that when circumstances changed, she revisited her estate plan to adapt it to those circumstances.
Before she had children, her current will might have made sense as her best estate planning option. However, with minor children, a trust to protect the distributions under her will became the better option.
This is something that everyone should do. Changed circumstances require changes in estate plans.
You probably should not take Britney Spears' as a positive example for other financial decisions. However, in this case, you absolutely should.
Life insurance can be extremely convenient. If you are in good health, it is not difficult to get.
Since policies pay out immediately upon death, life insurance is a good way to make sure that families have disposable income after a breadwinner passes away. It can also be used for other purposes in estate planning, such as equalizing inheritances between children when other assets are difficult to divide.
When you sign up for life insurance, you will normally need to fill out some forms about your medical history and lifestyle. You might also need to undergo a medical examination.
You might be tempted to fudge your answers on the paperwork a little. However, you should never do that because you can be charged with fraud.
In this case, three members of a family purchased life insurance for another family member, who was overweight and who had an extensive history of medical problems.
The family lied on the policy application about all of that and had another family member go to a medical exam and pretend to be the applicant. The insurance was approved and paid, when the family member passed away.
The family then tried to hide the proceeds by purchasing expensive items.
They are being charged with criminal fraud.
While this is obviously an extreme case, it illustrates that you can be caught, if you defraud a life insurance company. If life insurance is a part of your estate plan, make sure that you are honest on the application.
Comedian Jerry Lewis was particular about the legacy of his life's work on camera. He purchased all of the rights to his most memorable films, including everything from the scripts to negatives, when they were not worth very much.
Lewis even insisted on complete control over any possible remakes of the movies.
Now that he has passed away, it is not clear how valuable those rights might be.
Lewis purchased his Las Vegas home through a family trust. However, in 2002 he did something very unusual.
Lewis and his wife purchased the home from the trust.
It is not a particularly lavish home by celebrity standards. It is probably worth less than $1 million. There does not appear to have been any estate tax reason for the transfer.
There are two possible explanations.
The purchase might have been made to wind down the trust. It also could have been made to cover the costs of transferring the rights to his movies to the trust.
It means that it is not clear who now really owns the movie rights and what restrictions, if any, have been placed on how those rights can be handled.
Since Lewis was so particular about maintaining control of any remakes, it could be that he has given directions that no remakes be made after his death. This would make the rights worth far less, than if remakes could be made.
In previous decades, if the average person did not do any estate planning, they were being unwise but not necessarily reckless.
Most of the possessions people had were physical. It was, therefore, very easy to keep track of physical property of any value. Even financial accounts had paper trails that were normally not too difficult to find.
For a long time, many elder law advocates around the world have fought hard to change laws so terminally ill people could choose to end their own lives peacefully. As a result, many places now allow the practice, by having passed what are known as "Right to Die" or "Dying with Dignity" laws.
One such law recently went into effect in California.
The law permits doctors to prescribe lethal doses of medication to terminally ill patients who have fewer than six months left to live. While the California law has been praised by many advocates, doctors are less certain about it.
The dream of a select few individuals, is to live forever. You have probably heard about one method by which some people think they can accomplish this.
It is called cryogenics.
The idea is that a body can be frozen and stored for hundreds of years. It can then be unfrozen, when medicine has advanced to the point where any diseases the person suffered from can be easily cured.
The problem with this idea is that when you freeze living matter, you damage it irreparably. Ice crystals form in the living tissue that damage it.
So far, no one has found a way around this problem.
The researchers claim they were able to cryogenically freeze zebra fish embryos and then revive them without tissue damage. The big catch is that only 10% of the tissue was undamaged. The other 90% was still damaged beyond repair.
This result could be nothing more than an aberration.
If cryogenics did work, then estate planning would have to change greatly to make sure that a revived person had access to funds. However, for now, cryogenics is still very far from becoming possible and traditional estate planning still needs to be done.
A recent estate battle in New Hampshire sounds more than a little suspicious. In 2013, John Chaskalson, a multi-millionaire, was found shot to death. Prior to his death, his grandson Nathan Carman had purchased a weapon and bullets of the same caliber as the one that shot Chakalos.
The estate was divided equally between Chakalos' four daughters, including Carman's mother Linda Carman.
In 2016, Nathan and Linda Carman went out on a boat. Something happened to the boat and Nathan was eventually found adrift by a Chinese ship, miles away from where he claimed the boat had sunk.