If you're a partner (or possibly a second or later spouse) in a situation
like Tomi Rae, there are many steps you can take to avoid the problems and
legal entanglements facing Brown's estate:
Write a will that clearly explains what your partner will be left, what
her rights are, and so on. Hire a lawyer specializing in estate planning
and get it done right. List in the will all key family members and other
relationships, and what you bequeath to each of them. Brown could have
listed Tomi Rae as his partner, wife, or former partner or former wife, and
depending on which, could have changed what she was left. Clarifying the
relationships, and your intentions, is vital to minimizing legal
entanglements. It's simple, doesn't take much time or legal cost, and
saves bundles of agony for your heirs.
Communicate your personal concerns and wishes to your lawyer. Focus on
the people you want cared for (or not), not just taxes and legalities. If
your lawyer advises that your requests could be problematic, seek his
counsel on better ways to achieve your goals. If he can't get you what
you want, without a reasonable rationale, or doesn't help you to think
about all possible options before coming to a conclusion, then maybe it's
time to consider switching attorneys. It's easy for a lawyer to "yes"
you and write whatever you say in your will, but often that's not
protecting your goals or your heirs. Example: Brown could have given Tomi
Rae the right to live in his home for life (a life estate) and following
her death the house could pass to his children. Sounds easy, but how would
she pay for upkeep? What if a repair or improvement were needed? A better
approach may be a trust with an independent trustee and sufficient cash to
fund upkeep. Life estates can be really problematic. In a second or later
marriage/relationship you might want to grant your partner some period of
time, say 90-days, to live in your residence even if it is bequeathed to
others. During the emotional trauma following your death, a loved one (even
if not intended to inherit your house) should not be thrown out by children
from a prior marriage, or a lawyer doing his job as executor, etc.
Write a personal note of instruction to family, friends and other
important people explaining what you are doing and why. In many cases a
simple note can take the edge off the pain heirs feel. Perhaps Brown felt
that Tomi Rae had adequate housing and that his home should be made into a
museum to encourage some of the values dear to him. A note explaining that
might have avoided some of the problems.
Never make your estate plan or will vindictive. If you have an ax to
grind, deal with it while you are alive and able to, not at the end. Even
if Brown felt he didn't want to provide for Tomi Rae, they still had a
child and many years of a relationship together. Perhaps some bequest to
help her out, even if not what he thought necessary may have minimized or
eliminated the problems and pain which she is now dealing with.
Watch how assets are owned ("title" in legal terminology) and note
beneficiary designations (e.g., IRA, insurance). Title and beneficiary
designations determine where your assets go regardless of what your will
says. It all must be coordinated. Brown could have had his house owned
jointly with Tomi Rae if he wanted her to have it. Even if she would not
have been mentioned in his will, if her name was on the deed to the house,
it would have gone to her. If Brown wanted to protect Tomi Rae, avoid the
media circus, and then have the house to go to charity to establish a
museum, he could have transferred ownership of the house to a revocable
living trust which reserved 90-days for Tomi Rae to live there following
his death, and then transfer the house to the charity.
Take steps to keep your estate decisions out of the limelight. Set up
trusts now to avoid publicity. But, this won't work unless you tie up
loose ends and address key issues that could create problems later.
Celebrities are often better off using lifetime transfers (inter-vivos) to
minimize post-death media attention. Also, to minimize the success of a
post-death lawsuit, set up a pattern of benefiting the people you bequeath
your estate to, especially if there are others that view it differently.
Example: If Brown wanted to minimize what Tomi Rae would receive, he should
have made lifetime gifts to other heirs intentionally leaving Tomi Rae out
to demonstrate consistency with his will that may provide limited bequests
for her (if that turns out to be the case).
Have a family law attorney prepare a legal document to protect your
partner. If Brown thought he was marrying Tomi Rae he should have had a
pre-nuptial agreement signed. If Brown knew he and Tomi Rae were not
married he should have had a living together agreement signed. If Brown
wanted to assure Tomi Rae of certain bequests he could have signed a
document committing to make those bequests to her in his will (a will
contract). All the uncertainty could have been avoided and this would have
prevented Brown from changing his will to cut out Tomi Rae.
Assure your partner has sufficient assets in her name to get her
through the transition period following your death but before bequests or
trusts for her benefit can be effectuated
Plan ahead, be clear, don't be vindictive, establish a pattern...clean up
loose ends and minimize the problems.
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