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What we can learn from Paul Walker and Heath Ledger’s estates

By Bonnie Bowles, Estate Planning Attorney and Organized Mom

April 2, 2014


Do you have a will? Even though people are living longer every day, you may be tempted to put it off a few more years—but think again. Be edgy and get a will; you’ll be in the minority.


A will is the most popular of estate planning documents and what most people think is all they need when it comes to estate planning. But a will doesn’t do a few very important things that are needed to round out your estate plan.


Here are a few estate planning options as you think through what’s right for you and your family:


1. The “easiest” option is to not have a will at all.


It’s “easy” while you’re alive because you don’t have to do any planning or even think about it. It’s not easy on your family if you become disabled or pass away.


Many people fail to create a will often because they’re too busy or they’re afraid to face their own mortality.


But failure to do any planning means your family has to navigate the probate court system to help you or your estate in any way, whether it is making your medical decisions or handling your financial affairs. If you’re disabled or pass away, your loved ones have to petition the probate court—a lengthy, costly, and public process—to make medical and financial decisions for you, to access your bank accounts and other assets to cover your care and provide for your minor children, to figure out who the legal heirs of your estate are, to get permission to handle your debts, and to manage assets left to a minor child until they turn 18.


2. Having just a will is at least something, but it misses a few key areas.


With a will you can say who gets what, who is in charge of handling your estate, and a few other asset-related details.


But a will is not the right place for guardianship decisions. What if you haven’t passed away but are disabled and your children need a guardian? A will can’t help in this scenario, and it can’t help in the short-term emergency situation either when Colorado default state law says that only a blood relative can be the temporary guardian of your children. This is a difficult proposition for many Coloradans today whose family lives out-of-state.


And most importantly, it will does not avoid the probate court. If all you leave is a will (meaning no living trust described below), your family is subjected to the public court process. It’s expensive to pay all the people involved in probate—attorneys, court filing fees, appraisers, bond premiums, executive fees, and the list goes on. All of these fees are paid out of what would otherwise go to your children.


Heath Ledger left a will naming his daughter Matilda as his sole heir, and one might wonder why we’re even privy to that knowledge? It’s because a will is public—anyone can see what it says and what your children inherit.


3. A better option is to address more than “who gets what,” which means you need more than a will.


While “who gets what” is a key question in estate planning, it’s not the only one.


Other questions include things such as who do you want in charge of your financial affairs if you’re incapacitated? Who makes medical decisions on your behalf? Who is the guardian of your children when you’re incapacitated or pass away? How do you make sure your children don’t get total control over their inheritance at the young age of 18? How do you disqualify a family member from getting possession of your children if they’re not the right guardians to raise your children? How do you avoid the costly process of probate court?


A will doesn’t go very far in addressing these questions, but a more rounded out estate plan can help put your mind at ease that these other equally important estate planning questions are answered. And generally speaking, the better the planning is on the front end, the less expensive it is for your family on the back end.


4. The most ideal option keeps your family out of the probate court entirely by utilizing a living trust. A judge—a stranger to your family—definitely doesn’t have to be involved in your life or your children’s lives if you don’t want them to. But you can only keep a court out of your personal affairs with a comprehensive estate plan that incorporates a living trust.


Paul Walker is a great example. Danielle and Andy Mayoras, contributors to, reported that the probate court filing reveals Walker had a revocable living trust, but because these are private documents, “we do not get to see the actual trust document.  The probate documents only reveal that the trust exists and that Meadow is the sole beneficiary of it.”



OCHUM, GERMANY – MARCH 17: Paul Walker (L) and Vin Diesael arrive for the Europe premiere of Fast & Furious on March 17, 2009 in Bochum, Germany. (Ralph Orlowski/Getty Images)


A living trust allows your family immediate access to your assets (with a will going through probate, assets get tied up in probate court for months on end), keeps your financial affairs private (probate is a public process so anyone can see your asset information once you pass), and protects your children from stepping into a potentially disastrous inheritance scenario at 18 that they’re not equipped to handle (typically not covered as well in a will as it should be or could be with a living trust).


Despite popular opinion to the contrary, a living trust isn’t exclusively for the old or the wealthy.

It’s not a quantitative measure of age or dollars. The real question to be asking yourself about whether a living trust is right for your family is whether you feel educated by your estate planning attorney that you know what the roadmap looks like if you don’t have a trust, and what the roadmap looks like if you do.


Then you are the one making the informed decision about whether a living trust is right for your family.


Three-quarters of Americans die without a will these days. That doesn’t have to be you.


Article contributed by Wills & Wellness.

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6 Ways a trust is better than a will

A will is one of the most well-known estate planning documents, and yes, everyone should have one. But in some cases having a trust in addition to your will is imperative to give you the protection you’re looking for.

The biggest myth about wills is that it avoids probate—not true. Here are six ways a trust is better than a will:

Avoiding probate or conservatorship. A will lands your loved ones in the middle of the probate court while a trust will bypass the probate court process, saving the people you love time and money. To carry out instructions in a will, a probate proceeding must be opened in the probate court where you resided and that means your family is stuck dealing with the probate court if you get hospitalized or after you pass away.

Providing for a person with special needs. If you have a child or another dependent with special needs, a trust commonly known as a Special Needs Trust can protect assets for a special needs person without jeopardizing their qualification for government benefits. A will allows you to transfer assets to a special needs person, but it will not protect those assets in the same way a Special Needs Trust can. This is especially critical if a special needs person is on governmental benefits because an inheritance via a will or beneficiary designation can unintentionally disqualify them.

Privacy. When a will undergoes probate, it becomes public record. A trust is private. Have you ever wondered how it is that we know who inherited from Anna Nicole Smith, Michael Jackson, Heath Ledger, and Nelson Mandela? It’s because they didn’t use a trust to keep their personal information private. There are tons of celebrity stories out there that attorneys Danielle and Andy Mayoras devote their practice to covering.

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA – DECEMBER 10: Father of the late Heath Ledger, Kim Ledger poses with Eamon Farren at the Launch of the Heath Ledger Young Artists’ Project at the National Film and Sound Archive on December 10, 2010 in Canberra, Australia. The NFSA Young Artists Oral History Project will record young artists’ journey’s through personal video histories. (Photo by Cole Bennetts/Getty Images)

Blended families. If you are part of a blended family, a trust can give you the flexibility you will want to make sure that children from prior marriages are provided for in the way you want. It isn’t enough to leave everything to your surviving spouse, because they can turn around and leave everything to their own children—effectively disinheriting your side of the family.

Out-of-state property. If you own property in another state besides your state of residence, you can more easily transfer ownership via a trust than a will. Transferring out-of-state property in a will means additional legal expenses because your loved one would have to open probate in multiple states.

Asset protection. If you want to protect the assets you leave for your loved ones from creditors (including your beneficiaries’ bankruptcy and divorce), a trust is the way to do it. It’s a gift you can give your loved ones that they could not easily, or at all, give themselves.

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Note from the author: Probate doesn’t have to complicate things for your family and make everything public. A trust is superior to a will in many ways and may be the right choice for your family. If you want to have an estate planning “chat,” check out Wills & Wellness – we’re parents and estate planning attorneys who focus on educating families. Call us to schedule your Estate Planning Session (a $750 value) to spend up to two full hours with your attorney as you gain an understanding of the potential tax implications related to your estate. Call 720-266-8190 today and mention this article.


Article contributed by Wills & Wellness.

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Monday March 3rd, 2014 Podcast

HaystackRadio 03-03-14

Criminal Defense Attorney, Joseph Lazarra, joined us to talk about DUI offenses as well as conceal and carry law.


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Friday February 28th, 2014 Podcast

HaystackRadio 02-28-14

Personal Injury Attorney, Kevin Flesch of Flesch Law joined us to answer consumer questions about medical injuries and when an employee is a true employee verses an outside contractor.


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Tuesday Feburary 11th, 2014 Podcast

HaystackRadio 02-11-14

Today we are joined by Kurt Rogers of Affordable Interest Mortgage to talk about new programs that are available to home owners who are underwater or upside down.

We are then joined by Attorney Ron Taylor who described the various business partnerships and the legal ramifications and remedies of those partnerships.

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