Well, as you may recall, when Chief Justice Warren Burger died in 1995, there was quiet a commotion about his estate planning (or lack thereof).
When the top jurist in the country dies, you can expect all aspects of his life to be laid bare by the media.
Celebrity estates are celebrity estates. [Back in J-School we were taught that "if it bleeds, it leads."]
After all, just look at all of the (digital) ink spilled over the deaths of Elvis, Michael Jackson, Robin Williams and, now, Prince.
Back to the Warren Burger estate planning matter.
His last will and testament was personally typed and brief, very brief.
Like one-page brief - only 176 words.
Needless to say, a will of such brevity contained absolutely no estate tax planning for the $1.8 million Burger estate.
By the way, the estate tax exemption back then was $600,000 ... well below the $5.45 million in 2016.
Consequently, the Burger will was mocked by media mavens without surcrease, to include a scathing article in the Chicago Tribune and a fierce rebuttal of that article by Jane Bryan Quinn also in the Chicago Tribune.
In an interesting twist, apparently Chief Justice Burger may be enjoying the proverbial last laugh more that two decades after his passing.
We pick up the story in a recent reference as part of an Above the Law blog post titled, "Think Supreme Court Justices Can't Estate Plan? Wrong."
Burger's attorney noted that the one-page will actually maximized estate tax savings.
It seems the actual estate tax planning was effected in the will left by Elvera Burger, the wife of the Chief Justice.
She had predeased him.
Mrs. Burger's will left the maximum estate tax exemption amount directly to the Burger children, by-passing the Chief Justice.
That, my friends, was how both Burgers leveraged their respective estate tax exemptions to the max.
No need for the traditional A-B trust planning.
For more reading on the Burger estate plan and the unfortunate old canard of its failure, check out (and download) a scholarly paper written on the subject by back in 1995 by Paul L. Caron, University of Cincinnati College of Law
In the end, it appears the Chief Justice and his wife did consult with an estate planning attorney and took steps to minimize, but not eliminate their tax liability (via charitable giving, for example).
Regardless, estate planning is not a Do-it-Yourself project. Limit your DIY endeavors to such projects as staining your deck.
The stakes are too high, if you mess up.
For example, an unwitnessed, handwritten will is neither valid in Kansas nor in Missouri.
Without a valid will, state laws will dictate to whom your property passes.
Without a doubt, the biggest risk with any self-drafted will is that the probate court will declare it invalid because of some technical issue.
Be safe and consult with an experienced estate planning attorney.
So, how do you find an "experienced" estate planning attorney?
First, ask around. Friends, family and other professional advisors are trustworthy sources.
Second, conduct an "organic" search on "Google" for "estate planning" near you (e.g., "Estate Planning Anytown MoKan").
Third, either way, verify! Check out the education, experience, ratings and client reviews of any attorney before you contact him or her.
In fact, I use both of these services to thoroughly vett attorneys before referring members of our "client" family for legal help in other areas of law or for matters in jurisdictions outside Kansas or Missouri.
Remember: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” When making your financial, tax and estate plans, do not go it alone. Be sure to engage competent professional counsel.
For more information about estate planning in Overland Park, KS (and throughout the rest of Kansas and Missouri), visit our estate planning website and be sure to subscribe to our complimentary estate planning e-newsletter while you are there.
Reference: Above the Law (April 26, 2016) "Think Supreme Court Justices Can't Estate Plan? Wrong."