You may have heard by now, but when actress Anne Heche passed away on August 12th of this year, she left a bit of a mess behind. No, I’m not talking about the charred remains of the family home that she plowed her car into during her cocaine-fueled destruction derby. I’m talking about her estate plan.
Anne Heche did not have a clear and defined estate plan and as a consequence, the vultures are now circling her children. Because of the ambiguity left by not having a validly executed estate plan, Heche’s two sons, just 13 and 20, are locked in a costly court battle with Heche’s ex-boyfriend James Tupper, who claims he was emailed a copy of Heche’s unexecuted will in 2011. Anne Heche could have done a few things to prevent this tragedy; certainly, abstaining from cocaine and intoxicated driving would have been a good start.
However, failing that, she could have followed through on her estate plan and updated it when her life circumstances changed. No man knows the day or the hour that they will pass, but we have the opportunity today to make things easier on our loved ones when that time does come.
Consulting with an attorney is the first step in ensuring that you have an estate plan that fits your life and will be effective after your death.
Provide a copy of your Advance Directive to your Doctor so they have your medical wishes on file.
Consider pre-paid funeral arrangements to ease the burden on the person administering your affairs.
Make sure your Personal Representative or Trustee either has a copy of, or knows how to find, your estate plan.
Verify that your beneficiary designations on accounts and life insurance policies are in line with your wishes.
Update and maintain your estate plan to meet your needs as your life changes.
Remember, Anne Heche is gone, she’s not available to give guidance to her children or settle disputes as to what her wishes actually were. Instead, her family is at the mercy of the courts. In contrast, if you are reading this you are alive and still have time to put your affairs in order. Don’t let the government decide where your hard-earned money should go.
Call a licensed attorney now to help craft an estate plan that will help preserve your dignity, uphold your autonomy, and protect your family.
Attorney Nathan Begley is an estate planning and probate attorney in Gresham, Oregon.