Everyone loves a good mashup. Whether the two worlds colliding are Jay-Z with the Beatles, books with video or Wi-Fi café/bookstores (genius!), Charles Darwin himself would be proud of these rapidly multiplying examples of interbreeding of diverse "species" spawning ever more robust progeny.
In that vein, "Trial and Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights" … and what you can learn from celebrity errors — from married estate planning and probate attorney team Andrew and Danielle Mayoras — is the ultimate mashup of voyeurism into celebrity financial scandals and simple, sound estate planning advice.
If TMZ and Bankrate.com had a literary baby, it would be "Trial & Heirs."
"Trial and Heirs" transforms the potentially eye-glazing, mind-numbing, but obligatory topic of estate planning into an easy-to-read, sometimes comic but always tragically entertaining foray into how the everyman (and woman) can avoid the common asset protection gaffes rendered disastrous in the big-money context of celebrity fortunes.
Sneaking an estate-planning tutorial into a set of case studies of celebrity estate fiascoes, each chapter of "Trial and Heirs" offers not only the facts of the titular "Famous Fortune Fight" being used to illustrate a particular lesson, but also breaks out the moral of each story into "Avoid a Family Fight" tips and offers an educational set of sidebars throughout that convert the legalese of estate planning and probate trials into layperson’s terms.
Don’t let the cover’s cartoonish caricatures of Michael Jackson, Anna Nicole Smith and Princess Diana fool you — this book offers quite a comprehensive, meticulously organized set of need-to-knows and cautionary tales on how to protect your assets for your demise.
Section I is all about wills, and examines the basics, pros and cons, and logistics of the age-old estate-planning document in chapters with titles such as "Is This a Will or a Napkin?"
Each topic and lesson is vividly demonstrated by a story of a celebrity will, covering the post-demise dramas of personalities ranging from Howard Hughes to Heath Ledger.
In Section II, the preferred asset-protection vehicle, a living trust, is explored. The Mayoras again proceed systematically through the basic whats, hows and whys, this time covering the logistics of living trusts, and hanging each lesson on a famous estate battle, past or current.
The authors encourage conscientious attention to estate matters via properly creating and funding a living trust as a means of demonstrating care for family members by helping them avoid the monetary and emotional vampires of will probates and contests later on.
The Mayoras also encourage creative use of living trust clauses and stipulations to ensure that your values for your descendants outlive you, as with the authors’ own client, a plumber made very good, who made sure his grandchildren would maintain a strong work ethic by limiting their inheritance to a match of what they earned in any given year (with exceptions for good cause).
Section III, "People Are Crazy, Relatively Speaking," offers a primer on mental competency and undue influence — the primary issues contested in many probate court battles.
In Section IV, which covers disputes over assets owned jointly, life insurance proceeds and gifts, the Mayoras let the tales of Princess Di, Whitney Houston’s father, and Marlon Brando demonstrate that relying on "asset planning shortcuts" is inadvisable, to say the least.
And Section V rounds out "Trial & Heirs" with a set of guidelines on selecting and avoiding problems with executors and trustees.
While the majority of the book’s case studies arise from big-dollar, big-exposure famous cases, there are a number of real-life, real-world examples of the authors’ own clients and common-sense planning tips for "normal-sized" estates thrown in for good measure.
For example, readers who wish to provide for disabled relatives without disqualifying them from their medical and disability benefits are schooled about special-needs trusts.
"Trial & Heirs" manages to accomplish a stunning trifecta of near impossibilities for a book about estate planning. Not only does it entertain, it deeply educates and also galvanizes readers into taking action to protect their families and their legacies.
Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of "The Savvy Woman’s Homebuying Handbook" and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." Ask her a real estate question online or visit her Web site, www.rethinkrealestate.com.
What’s your opinion? Leave your comments below or send a letter to the editor. To contact the writer, click the byline at the top of the story.