1. PRINCESS DIANA: "Do-It-Yourself" doesn't cut it. Although we are talking about the laws of a totally different country, Diana's strategy is employed all to often here in California. Rather than properly execute a formal estate plan, Princess Di wrote an unenforceable letter of intent, which dictated her wishes, but could not be considered by the court. Only formal estate plans and documents are legally recognized.
3. DORIS DUKE: Choosing Unscrupulous Fiduciaries. Tobacco and energy heiress Duke chose her butler to manage her nearly $1 Billion charitable foundation which was set up to support various charities she was fond of. After her butler used much of the assets for his own benefit, the whole plan ended up in court costing the foundation dearly and delaying much of her intended charitable work. Much care should be given to choosing the fiduciaries to handle the administration of your estate.
4. WHITNEY HOUSTON: Leaving Intent Unclear. Whitney Houston's father named Whitney as a beneficiary on a large life insurance policy. However, it was unclear whether he wanted her to keep the money or repay money owed by his wife. This confusion as to the intent of his estate led to a multi-year court battle. It is a good idea to include statements of intent embedded inside of a formal estate plan.
5. SONNY BONO: Procrastinator. Sunny Bono unexpectedly passed away at the age of 62, and did not even have a simple will in place. Bono also had an illegitimate child whom he had kept secret for years, who later laid claim to a portion of the estate and complicated matters further. Never assume you are able to get your affairs in order at a later time.
6. MARLON BRANDO: Another "Do-It-Yourself" Tragedy. Marlon Brando's long-time housekeeper alleged that he made oral promises to her, including a house to live in and continued employment. After Brando died, these promises spurred two separate lawsuits. Never rely on oral promises to effectuate your wishes.
7. FLORENCE GRIFFITH JOYNER (FLO-JO): Not Communicating With Your Family. Supposedly Flo-Jo had a complete and comprehensive estate plan, but hid it so well she never told her family where it was. Without any documents to settle her estate, things ended up in probate, which lasted for 4 years. Your family should always know where your estate planning documents are kept.
8. HEATH LEDGER: Did Not Keep Estate Plan Updated. Actor Heath Ledger died with an outdated plan that did not reflect the birth of his daughter. With the entire estate going to his girlfriend, the family fought for years in court and in the press. An estate plan should be reviewed regularly and updated with any major life change.
9. SUPREME COURT JUSTICE WARREN BURGER: Yet Another "Do-It-Yourself" Tragedy. Former Supreme Court Justice Warren Burger created a Will, which contained only 176 words. Although brevity can be appreciated in many circumstances, Burger left our key provisions in his Will and his family paid dearly. An estate plan is a good investment of your time and money, and relying on professional assistance is essential.
10. JIMI HENDRIX: Do Nothing. Unfortunately for Hendrix, his entire estate was handled by someone he barely was acquainted with, and the entire probate process was riddled with legal problems even 30 years after his death. The lesson here is to do something. Anything. Putting together an estate plan is not very complicated, and can solve so many problems for one's family in the future.