The passing of high-profile personalities affords us an opportunity to talk about the importance of proper estate planning. You may recall in August when Aretha Franklin’s death was front-page news. We wrote a blog about her failure to write a will and trust and the potential problems that would pose for the music icon whose estate was valued in the tens of millions.
Unfortunately, it seems our predictions are coming to pass. Now, 6+ months later, Franklin’s estate has yet to settle. Complicating the issue, her ex-husband is vying for royalties according to a USA Today article published in January. While Franklin’s 4 sons are set to inherit their mother’s estate, the process has been long and very public because her wishes were not documented on paper. This has also made it easier for others to stake a claim to a portion of the estate.
This past week, the headlines have offered us another view into this topic of wills and trusts. We were saddened to read about the untimely death of Luke Perry due to stroke. At only 52, the actor’s death is certainly a tragedy for his family, including 20 and 18-year-old children and a fiancé. For those of us in midlife, it is also a grim reminder that there’s no guarantee we’ll have time to write that will. We never can know for sure.
Perry’s death was made at least a little easier thanks to his forethought. In 2015, spurred by a cancer scare, he established a will and trust leaving his estate to his children. Because his wishes were made clear, the family will be able to settle his affairs more quickly and without the eye of the media watching each public court transaction.
But Perry didn’t just alleviate his family’s worries down the line; he also alleviated some of his own suffering. He certainly couldn’t have predicted that his final days would be spent on life support after a stroke. However, because he had completed a Living Will or Medical Power of Attorney (it’s unclear which legal route was taken), life support was discontinued as soon as recovery was deemed medically impossible. Without a Living Will or Medical Power of Attorney, the decision to turn off life support would likely have moved to court, thus extending his time on the machines and exacerbating his family’s turmoil.