Is Your Estate Prepared for Your Untimely Death?

Dale Earnhardt was an extremely successful race car driver and one of the most significant figures in NASCAR history.1 In 2001 during the first race of the Winston Cup series that year, Earnhardt was killed instantly in a crash finishing his last lap.2 It was a tragic day for his family and the entire NASCAR community.

Earnhardt planned to leave behind a power legacy supporting his family. He had created his own racing company, sponsoring his son, Dale Earnhardt Junior’s NASCAR career. His intention was to let Junior build his career in racing using the Earnhardt name.

“His plan was for his children to use the Earnhardt name to succeed and further their own careers — as any good father would do.”3

Unfortunately, without any estate documents outlining Earnhardt’s plan, his estate was left to the probate process: Following a person’s death, the probate process begins, this process is made easier if the deceased had a will or trust established. But in Earnhardt’s case, without a will or trust the outcome of his estate was subject to state laws. These laws allowed Earnhardt’s wife to inherit his entire estate without any legal obligation to uphold his expressed wishes.

So, his wife did not follow through on any of Earnhardt’s wishes and instead ended up in public feuds and legal battles with her stepchildren. Junior ended up leaving his own family’s racing company to build his career at a rivaling company. Earnhardt’s wife also had legal battles with her other stepson Kerry Earnhardt over the use of his own name for his home and furniture business. 3

Consequently, Earnhardt’s sudden death also marked the death of the legacy he wanted for the Earnhardt name. 

This could happen to anyone without a will; your intentions for your estate may not be executed the way you want, even if you have expressed them. Anyone with a will is confident that their wishes will be executed according to their plan. Think of all the people in your life you want to share your estate with. If you tragically passed today, would all those people get a piece of your legacy?

Alternatively, in some situations, estate documents can be unclear or dated, in which case legal proceedings may be held over the various interpretations which we saw with Rockstar Tom Petty.

The awarded singer, songwriter, and producer most notably remembered as lead singer and guitarists of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers suddenly passed from an accidental drug overdose following the Heartbreakers’ anniversary tour.4 In the attempt to diminish any potential conflict following his death, Petty had taken the time to create the legal documentation explaining what he wanted for his legacy—an equal division between his wife and children.5 Many families end up in legal battles over estates that can tarnish a legacy, it was clear Petty wanted to avoid this. However, that’s not what actually happened.

Now, this may have seemed obvious to Petty, but the word ‘equal’ caused the opposite of what he wanted—a family battle over two interpretations of this division. With his new wife and two children from his previous marriage, Petty’s wishes were interpreted in 2 different ways:

  1. 50% control goes to his wife and each of his children get 25% control.
  2. His wife and children each get 33.33% control.

The vague language and a probable lack of update to his estate documents, led to an ugly 2 year battle between Petty’s wife and children. The winning interpretation determined who controlled his songbook— ‘American Girl’ and ‘I Won’t Back Down’—and his lasting memory in society. The feud ended in a settlement between his wife and children agreeing they would each have equal control (scenario 2 above).6 However, we will never know what Petty’s intentions were when creating his estate documents.

These stories aren’t just reserved for race car drivers and rock stars, this could happen to you or your family.  It should be clear now, why everyone should have a will. The truth is, most people don't because they haven't taken the time to sit down and complete it or they aren't sure how to start. Additionally, many people have an outdated will because it is expensive to create and update. Estate planning is easy to put off but in the unlikely event of your sudden passing, it could leave your loved ones in situations like what we saw with the families of Dale Earnhardt or Tom Petty. Is that what you want for your legacy?

At Camelotta Advisors, our clients have the peace of mind that comes from knowing their hard-earned assets will not end up misdirected. For over 20 years, we have focused our clients on directing their assets to support their legacy wishes as they pass wealth to their heirs. We keep our clients on a timeline and provide the extra push needed to help them finish their estate plans. Then we facilitate the harder discussions around end-of-life planning and implement smart philanthropic tax strategies. We keep the process organized and simple so our clients can prioritize their values.

In many situations Camelotta Advisors incudes your estate documents as part of our planning process. We have invested in the resources and technology to let our clients easily create and update their estate documents without an expensive estate attorney. Why? We want our clients to focus on what's really important—building and enjoying their wealth. Have you thought about why you're building your wealth?

How You Can Start Planning Today:

1. Create Your Will

Without a plan and the proper estate documents, your legacy is not protected. Even worse, without estate documents, no one has a legal obligation to follow through on your last wishes, even if you unofficially expressed them. 

2. Think About Your Medical Care Wishes

Without the proper documents within your estate plan, your medical choices may not be pursued. This could mean leaving your life in the hands of someone you don’t want making tough life-or-death decisions for you. Alternatively, you could end up living with the consequences of a medical decision you would not have made for yourself.

3. Shield Your Estate from Higher Taxes with a Trust*

Without proper estate planning, you could leave behind a high tax bill—and consequently, a smaller estate for your heirs. At the end of it all, no one wants to leave their loved ones feeling unprotected. That's why you want to maximize your legacy by minimizing the taxes.

*To evaluate your need for a trust contact Camelotta Advisors, another qualified advisor, or and estate attorney.  

You owe it to yourself and your family to put in more effort than Dale Earnhardt or Tom Petty did with their legacies. Take the first step by getting in touch with us today, we make estate planning easy and more importantly, give you peace of mind.  

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