Celebrity estate planning lessons - what you can learn from famous cases

Date: Nov 23, 2011

Ensuring that your assets will be treated the way you want them to after you are gone can be a simple process, but it is one that can often be neglected.

However, as some high profile celebrity cases teach us, there are some poignant reasons to give the estate planning process the time and effort it is due.

Consider the media attention given over to the last will and testament of Michael Jackson - who died in 2009 on June 25.

Leaving behind him three children and a music empire valued at the time to be worth approximately $US500 million ($AU618 million at July 2 2009), the King of Pop had kept in place a valid will since 2002.

In it he clearly details how he would like his assets to be divided amongst his family members and loved ones.

The documents, submitted to the courts on July 1 2009, stated that Michael Joseph Jackson was not married at the time and made it clear that his previous attachment to former wife Deborah Rowe had been legally dissolved.

This is an important statement to include, as under Australian law a will becomes invalid after a marriage or a divorce unless certain provisions are made.

In addition, Jackson mentioned his three children by name and declared that he had no other offspring "living or dead".

This is an important feature to note, as some estate disputes can arise from a person's will failing to adequately provide for dependents - by naming them in this way the will helps to make it clear that they are recognised as such.

One of the main features of Jackson's five-page estate planning device is that all of his assets were placed in the care of a trust that was set up during his lifetime to provide ongoing support for a number of parties.

Perhaps one of the more notable sections of the will is the part in which the pop star makes it clear that he had mentioned all of his family members that he wishes to become beneficiaries - and that anyone else has been deliberately excluded.

The final article of the document is related to the guardianship of Jackson's children, should they be considered minors at the time of his death.

In the event that his mother Katherine Jackson was not able to or unwilling to take on the role, he nominated Motown legend Diana Ross as the guardian "of the persons and estates" of any of his offspring until they reached adult age.