Estate planning can be difficult for any family. Especially if you or a loved one has been diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, it can feel even more overwhelming and perplexing.
The primary goal of estate planning is ensuring that an individual’s wishes for their estate come to fruition after they pass. However, knowing a person's exact wishes can be a challenge, even more when they have Alzheimer's or another neurological disorder. There are three lessons we can learn from celebrities about Alzheimer's and estate planning.
Lesson 1: Plan Ahead
Glen Campbell, the renowned American country singer and guitarist, created an estate plan in 2007 — well before he lost his life to Alzheimer’s in 2017. His original estate plan left out three of his adult children. After his death, these three children sued to challenge their disinheritance. However, they ultimately dropped the case a few years later.
Glen Campbell’s case highlights the importance of planning ahead. Because Campbell had completed his estate plan 10 years before his death, his exact wishes and plans for the future were clear. When his children tried to challenge this plan, their claims were ultimately unfounded.
We always recommend that our clients begin thinking about estate planning as early as possible. You never know what situations may arise that could prevent you from detailing your exact wishes for your estate down the line. You can alter your estate plan later if you need to, but you can’t go back in time to when you had a clearer idea of your wishes.
Lesson 2: Clearly Identify a Power of Attorney
Etta James, the famous blues singer, reportedly struggled with Alzheimer’s disease for several years before passing away in 2012. Near the end of her life, her husband, Artis Mills, and her son from a previous relationship, Donto James, fought over the right to make financial and health care decisions on Etta’s behalf.
Etta had appointed her son as power of attorney during her battle with Alzheimer’s. Near the end of her life, Mills argued that this decision was invalid because Etta was incompetent when she signed her son as power of attorney. This legal battle continued until after Etta’s death when Mills ultimately received conservatorship to cover the costs of Etta’s care during her final months of life.
Etta James’ case emphasizes the importance of making your wishes for your power of attorney and living trust clear. Even though Etta had signed legal documents naming her son as power of attorney, her husband was able to challenge these documents. Had Etta made her wishes clearer to an estate planning lawyer and other family members, Mills may not have won his settlement.
Lesson 3: Avoid Significant Changes to Legal Plans After Alzheimer’s Has Progressed
Aaron Spelling, the largely successful Hollywood producer, reportedly left behind a $500 million estate after his death from Alzheimer’s disease in 2006. Initially, Spelling had planned to divide his estate between his two children and their mother, Candy. However, two months before he passed away, Spelling altered his estate plan to reduce his son and daughter’s inheritance to just $800,000 each.
While Spelling’s children did not publicly challenge this change, his daughter, actress Tori Spelling, made her financial struggles in the following years clear. Many outsiders wonder whether Aaron Spelling was in a sound mental state when he made these significant changes to his estate plan.
Aaron Spelling’s case shows the importance of trying to stick to your initial estate plans after your illness has progressed. Of course, you can alter your estate plan at any time before your death. However, in Spelling’s case, his children were caught off guard by the significant changes made to their inheritances. These changes may not have reflected his exact wishes.
How the Alzheimer’s Planning Center Can Help
The Alzheimer's Planning Center is a division of Carolina Family Estate Planning dedicated to assisting individuals and families affected by cognitive impairment, dementia, and Alzheimer's live their best lives as possible through our proprietary Memory Safeguard Planning. We help individuals and their families maximize quality time with their loved ones and serve as a trusted source of vetted legal and financial information.
If we learn anything from the celebrity examples is the importance of hiring a trustworthy, qualified estate planning attorney to assist your planning process. An Alzheimer’s planning attorney can help you detail all your wishes for your estate before your illness progresses. The earlier you start planning, the more powerful it will be in terms of the planning options available and the amount of peace and security we can provide. Contact our Carolina Family Estate Planning team today at 919-443-3035 to schedule your vision meeting.
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