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Names like Princess Diana, Warren Burger, Michael Jackson and others generally inspire awe and respect for their accomplishments during their lifetimes. However, there are also important lessons that Maryland residents can learn from these individuals, and others, about estate planning and probate administration. The probate administration process can be challenging for families in the best of circumstances. In complex circumstances however, the process can be even more difficult.

Michael Jackson has been in the media a great deal since his death, one reason being for the difficult probate situation confronting his family. It appears that while Jackson created a trust before his death, he failed to fund it, which led to a contentious and ongoing struggle in court. Similarly, Jimi Hendrix did not have even a will drawn before his untimely death at only 27 years old. Hendrix's estate was handled by the state which gave all his assets to his father, who later left everything to an adopted daughter. Hendrix's brother, with whom he was very close, ended up with nothing afterward.

Princess Diana had a "letter of wishes" but reportedly no will when it came to the award of pricey possessions to her sons and godchildren. Because the wishes were not written within a legitimate will, the godchildren received only small items. In an example of someone who thought that writing their will themselves was a good idea, the noted Supreme Court Justice Warren Burger ended up leaving his family with an estate tax bill and administration fees of more than $450,000 after his death. These examples demonstrate why it is important to have legally valid documents drafted to support wishes.

Estate planning can be complicated for any family, but the probate administration process can be even more challenging when circumstances are not as they seem. When Maryland residents fail to establish a legally binding estate plan, they risk financially impacting their loved ones after their death. It is always helpful to take the time to investigate and understand the requirements for drafting and executing estate documents that distribute one's estate in the manner intended and in full compliance with applicable laws.

Source: Forbes, "What We Can Learn From Celebrity Estate Planning Gone Wrong," Erik Carter, Oct. 17, 2012

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