By Alan G. Orlowsky, J.D., C.P.A.
For the past several months we all have been witness to the drama surrounding the death of Michael Jackson. His personal life, played out on the public stage, was by any reasonable standards as bizarre as it was tragic. However, notwithstanding his failings of character and eccentricities, he died a very wealthy man, was revered by many, and possessed the common sense to reduce his testamentary wishes to paper. Unlike many “relatively normal well adjusted” entertainers, Michael “got it” and understood that he needed to prepare a Will to protect his family.
So, what did Michael´s Will state? What did he declare therein to protect his family and perpetuate his legacy that we can learn from? And how did he overcome the psychological hurdle of confronting his own death when most other mortals could not?
What was declared therein and the filing thereof are as follows:
In my opinion… yes!
It has served him well by providing for the transfer of his assets to his Family Trust, by providing that his trusted mother be appointed guardian of his children, and, so far, by withstanding attack from outsiders. Also, since Trusts are not subject to public scrutiny, Michael was able to keep the disposition of his estate free from the public eye. One omission I am able to infer from the filing of the Will is the failure by Michael´s attorney to have re-titled his considerable assets in the name of his Family Trust prior to death…a common mistake which not only subjects estate assets to potentially costly probate proceedings but also to otherwise avoidable public view.
What we learn from Michael´s Will is that good planning can prevent a clash of family members and outsiders who may otherwise have pitted themselves against each other in order to lay claim to Michael´s considerable estate and to the custody of his beloved children. Clearly, millions of dollars were saved and lengthy litigation avoided because Michael planned.
Why did Michael plan while many others fail to do so? Maybe Michael understood the fragility of life and was not in denial about his risky behavior. Perhaps Michael had a death wish or just wanted to protect his children. Perhaps he had a proactive attorney who made it crystal clear that catastrophe would ensue if he suddenly died having failed to plan. We will never know for sure his reasons for planning, but you can take a cue from his forward-thinking and establish a plan to protect your family as well as he protected his.
Alan G. Orlowsky, President of Orlowsky & Wilson, Ltd. in Lincolnshire, Illinois, has been counseling people on estate planning for over 30 years. He previously worked for the IRS in its Estate and Gift Tax Division. He also worked for the Deloitte & Touche accounting firm, and he has taught taxation and accounting at Loyola University of Chicago, School of Business.
Al is a contributing author of the book 21st Century Wealth (Esperti Peterson Institute, Denver, 2000), and has written numerous articles on the subject of estate planning. Contact Alan Orlowsky by email or call 847-325-5559.