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Lessons from famous large estate disasters

By Hutch Ashoo & Christopher Snyder

Stories Told from Experience

At A Glance

• Do your advisers always deliver what they promise?

• When was the last time all your advisers met together with you?

• Paying a professional $500-$700 an hour doesn't ensure your wishes will be carried out two things to do: If you can't answer a definitive "yes" to both questions below and you have a substantial estate, you may be facing an unknown outcome, one that may be similar to the high profile stories we share below.

• Have your corporate attorney, estate attorney, accountant, wealth manager and insurance agent met as a team to talk with you about how they could work together to help you achieve your personal and business needs?

• Do your professional team members follow through, without fail, on what they said they would do?

In our 20-plus years of experience we have come to realize that many professionals seem to work as isolated silos. These professionals are experts, but they lack the ability to work across other disciplines for the purpose of achieving their clients' wishes.

As you will see from these high profile stories, it's not just about throwing money at the top minds in the different fields and expecting things to work out. It is about coordination and communication amongst your experts as well as being proactive in planning to ensure your plans are current.

We are not attorneys. None of what's in this article is to be construed as legal advice.

Queen of Mean

Recently hotel empress Leona Helmsley left her dog $12 million while her grandchildren David and Walter Panzirer were left $5 million each with the condition that they visit their father's grave at least annually, preferably on the anniversary of his death. Should they miss a visit, they would be cut off from the money left in the trust. The other two grandchildren, Craig and Megan Panzirer, were disinherited for "reasons which are known to them."

Our comments: As wealth managers we do not judge our clients' legacy wishes. Our job is to coordinate wealth, legal and tax strategies to carry out our client's wishes. As bizarre as Leona's wishes may seem it is not unusual to hear of such stories. To learn more about how you can help pass-on your legacy and values please review our column of July 13, "Legacy Wills," under Articles on our Web site, www.pillaronline.com.

Enquiring Minds

Paul Pope, 39, the son of former National Enquirer owner Generoso Pope Jr. is battling his mother, Lois, over the mismanagement of the trust his father left after his death in 1988. The trust started with $186 million and income rights to the mom, now 73-years-old. It has grown 1 percent annually over 17-year period to $218 million. Paul and four siblings will split the trust's principal balance.

Our comments: In our experience such family disputes are much more common than you think. It happens all the time with siblings fighting over mom's estate. Since they are usually less famous estates they go unmentioned in the media. Some attorneys draw the line when they believe disinheriting certain family members will destroy the family. Truth be told though we find there are more opportunities for maximizing your legacy when we have a happy family.

Strict Diet

Diet guru Robert Atkins left behind a trust valued at more than $400 million, with his widow Veronica as income beneficiary to the tune of a reported $14 million to $25 million a year. Veronica is trying to fire the three trustees, which are each receiving $1.2 million annually for a total of $3.6 million. The three trustees purchased a $15 million life insurance policy on Veronica, who is now remarried, naming themselves the beneficiaries when she dies. The trustees say that Veronica asked that they do this and that they are funding the policy premiums out of their own money! Upon Veronica's death the trust will be split amongst family members, charities and the Robert C. and Veronica Atkins foundation.

Our comments: Clients can become disenchanted and downright angry when they have to live under guidelines of the will/trust, but the documents are the deceased's final wishes. Ironclad estate and trust planning may help prevent such family tragedies.

Why Wait?

Robert Brooks died July 2006; he was the founder of Hooters restaurants. He left $20 million to his second wife Tami Brooks, 48. She was to receive $1 million for 20 years, but under a South Carolina law she is seeking to receive a 30 percent elective share of the estate, which is believed to be greater than $20 million. Robert Brooks also left 30 percent of his estate to his daughter who can't touch the money until she is 30-years-old and 30 percent to his 38-year-old son Coby Brooks amongst others.

Our comments: Elective share laws are in place to help widows and young children from being disinherited and suffering from poverty. Community property states have guidelines where a surviving spouse automatically owns 50 percent of the assets. This is why we coordinate efforts within your professional adviser team to ensure your wishes are in fact what will be carried out. Knowing what your adviser's true talents are is what makes all the difference in your legacy becoming a reality.

We believe wealth managers' greatest value is to help you achieve everything that is important to you, via coordination of efforts and by having the right players on your team. They should be honest and upfront with you and mind the fact that the less fees and taxes you pay the more your loved ones or causes that are near and dear to your heart will benefit.

Authors Haitham "Hutch" Ashoo and Christopher Snyder are partners at Pillar Financial Services Inc. in Walnut Creek. Ashoo is founder, president and CEO. Reach them at PFS@PillarOnline.com or 925-356-6780.

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