Celebrities and high-profile businesspeople continue to inadvertently provide lessons for the rest of us about how important it is to make a will and have an estate plan. Forbes reports that Zappo’s CEO Tony Hsieh died “intestate” which means he had no will or trust. This will have several costly and aggravating repercussions for his family, not to mention anyone to whom he might have wished to see benefit from his estimated $700m fortune.
If he had done even the most rudimentary planning and chosen to make a will, he could have chosen whomever he wished to manage his estate’s affairs, identified worthy charitable or individual beneficiaries, and avoided years of delay and the loss of enormous sums of money for legal bills. Now his father and brother will have virtually unfettered control over his assets. Moreover, those assets will not be divided according to the laws of the State of Nevada rather than by Hsieh’s wishes.
Failing to plan not only frustrates the wishes of the deceased person, but it also takes requires the oversight of a probate court. By its nature, probate exists to slow down the distribution of assets, providing a forum for creditors or anyone who can stake a valid claim to the decedent’s property. If Hsieh had done a living trust, his beneficiaries would be able to enjoy his assets faster, and at far less cost. There wouldn’t be a long series of public hearings to give a forum to anyone asserting a claim against him, and the entire affair would have been conducted with greater privacy.
Obviously, most of us have nothing like Hsieh’s wealth. Nevertheless, the same lessons apply to our more modest estates. Our wishes can be clearly stated, our families and other beneficiaries can get their money more quickly and easily, and we can save our family time and expense by making these decisions and using a simple living trust.