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  • Northern Virginia Trusts & Estates

Unique Estate Planning Examples & The Chaos They Can Cause

Whenever a loved one passes away there is usually a period of grief, upheaval and oftentimes panic that results.  This happens to most families who are faced with loss but it is even more true when dealing with unexpected requests made during estate planning.

These requests can manifest themselves in more traditional ways like cutting out the “black sheep” of the family in the will; or they can occur when people ask for some outlandish things that were not anticipated by those left behind.

Let’s take a look at some of the more infamous examples of unexpected estate planning caveats that left their executor’s scratching their heads.

“Space… The Final Frontier”

Beloved creator of the Star Trek series, Gene Rodenberry, was an avid fan of space and everything to do with it.  He took his love one step further and in his estate planning, requested that his remains be released into space into what has become known as a celestial burial.

However, he died in 1991 before that option was available.  In order to carry out his wishes, an entirely new form of funerary arrangement had to be created.  His dream was eventually realized in 1997 when a portion of his ashes were sent into orbit around the Earth by a company called Celestis Inc., in their Founder’s Flight where the maiden voyage was manned by other space enthusiasts.

His wife Majel, who died some eleven years later in 2008, arranged another space flight where their combined remains were then sent into the great hereafter together aboard another Celestis shuttle in 2012.

In the end, Gene and his leading lady truly did go where no man has gone before.

The Baby Boom of 1938

We’ve all heard of the baby boom generation, but one unique individual’s estate planning intricacies resulted in a population burst in the Toronto area in 1938.

Strangely enough, an attorney with no descendants of his own, left provisions in his will for an inheritance of $568,106 in 1928 which in today’s dollars equates to a little over $8 million, for the mother of the most babies in the following ten year period.

So before the end of the term in 1938, bouncing babies popped up one after the other until the close race was won by four eager mothers who split the estate between them each with ten children over a ten year period.

Ten children over ten years…imagine the dynamic of complexities those children would later endure when their newly wealthy parents met their eventual demise.

Can you hear me Bess?

Everyone has heard of the great Harry “Handcuff” Houdini.  During his lifetime he was known for many amazing wonders.  As an illusionist, magician, inventor, aviator and spiritualist he left a large footprint on history.

One of his most interesting pastimes was a practice called Spiritualism.  He and his wife were known to believe in an afterlife and believed that spirits, if motivated, could communicate with the living.

To test their beliefs, Harry and his wife Bess agreed upon a code word that he would use to identify himself to her after his death.  And in a unique turn of events, Mr. Houdini made an official request that Bess, his widow, would hold a seance, a ceremony believed to allow communication between the plane of the living and the dead, every year on Halloween night.

Bess carried out her beloved’s wishes for an entire decade.  She is quoted as saying, “Ten years is long enough to wait for any man.”  When asked why she finally stopped.

The irony of their story is, a code word and a standing request to reach out on Halloween resulted in a multitude of attempts to bilk the renowned widow out of money and fame.  She was inundated with requests from all manner of people who swore to have made contact with her departed spouse and to be the only holder of his secret phrase.

In the end, Bess put Harry’s request to rest and to this day, Mr. Houdini has not been known to have appeared for his second act.

The Afterlife of the Party

While it’s not unique for family and friends to get together to celebrate the life and mourn the loss of a loved one, one thing that doesn’t happen often is the party being hosted by the deceased.

But for her friends, legendary rock musician Janis Joplin, hosting her own “death celebration” was not a shock.  She lived a decadent life filled with alcohol and other vices and just two days before her death she made provisions for $2,500, roughly $18,000 today, to be used to fund a party at her favorite bar in California.

So while the bulk of her fortune passed to her parents, a moderate chunk went to celebrate her life in style.  For her final farewell, several weeks after her death, a note was delivered to all the guests saying, “Drinks are on Pearl,” (Joplin’s favorite moniker.)

Another example of creative estate planning that resulted in the unexpected.

The Queen of Mean

Our tale wouldn’t be complete without an example of the unexpected that went awry.

The 1980’s investor and real estate magnate Leona Helmsley had one request above all others for the one she loved most.  For her little Maltese companion, Trouble, Ms. Helmsley set aside $12 million dollars.

By comparison she only bequeathed $5 million dollars to each of her grandsons along with the provision that they continue to visit their father’s grave each year while kicking her son’s widow out of their shared home.

In the long run, a judge ruled that poor Trouble would only receive $2 million dollars to keep him in the luxurious life he was used to, which as it turns out was a villa in Florida where he retired to until he died at 12 years old at the ripe old age of 84.

Trouble’s failure to keep his paws on his other $10 million is a good example of why informed estate planning is essential if you have very specific requests intended after you are deceased.

We’ll Help You Get It All Official

At NOVA Trust and Estates, we’re here to advise you and guide you through the important task of drawing up your estate plan or even making important updates to the one that you already have.

This includes enumerating the details that are important to you and ensuring that no matter how unexpected or run of the mill, your wishes may be, they will be documented succinctly and conclusively.

You don’t want any unexpected surprises for your family when they are coping with a traumatic loss.   Make sure that for their benefit, your affairs are in order and your estate plan is judiciously executed.

Give us a call at 703.938.3510 or contact us for your free consultation on your personal & affordable Virginia estate plan today.

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