Want to broach the controversial subject of estate planning over Thanksgiving dinner this week? Try using a celebrity anecdote to get family members more comfortable talking about hard decisions.
Some good ones to use:
- Whitney Houston has been locked in a vicious court battle with her stepmother over a $1 million life insurance policy left by Whitney's father. The policy named Whitney as the sole beneficiary, but stepmother Barbara says the benefit was only intended to repay Whitney some money she had loaned her father for his house. The remainder, Barbara says, was meant to be given to her. A federal court in New Jersey ruled in favor of Whitney, but Barbara has appealed, and the trial is ongoing. The lesson? Make sure beneficiary designations are done properly.
- Arturo Gatti, former world-champion boxer, died at 37 in 2009. Though the death was officially ruled a suicide, Gatti's family has accused his wife of his murder, and they're seeking to enforce a 2007 version of his will, drawn up prior to his marriage. His wife says a newer will, drawn up three weeks before he died, should be considered valid. No one can find the signed copy of the 2007 will; Gatti's family has accused his wife of destroying it. The situation, of course, has resulted in a lengthy court battle. Why does it matter? Gatti should have updated his will right after marrying, not two years later, when the relationship was starting to fray. Wills and other important documents should also be kept in safe, fire-proof locations.
- Nina Wang, the richest woman in Asia, left all her money to her feng shui advisor, Tony Chan, in a will drawn up just months before she died. Prior estate planning documents left all of Wang's fortune to charities, as she was unmarried and had no children. Wang's siblings fought to honor previous wills, accusing Chan of manipulation. Chan, married to someone else, said he and Wang were secret lovers. A four-month trial eventually found the will to be a forgery, and Chan was sent to jail. The take-away? Watch out for financial exploitation, especially among the elderly.