In late July, when Grammy-winning R&B artist Amy Winehouse died at he age of 27, it could have been significantly more tragic than it already was. Like many young celebrities, she had well-publicized struggles with hard drugs and alcohol, numerous stays in rehab and a brief, tumultuous marriage. Surprisingly (and to my great delight), the media is reporting that she had an excellent and up-to-date estate plan that will dispose of her fortune (an estimated $16 million and counting, thanks to the uptick in sales of her albums after her passing) in the way she intended. We can all learn from the Winehouse family's loss.
Our own research reinforces what we have known for years: People in general and the ultra-affluent in particular have not prepared for death. While the majority of wealthy individuals have a will or an estate plan, most are out of date and no longer reflect the assets or intentions of the testator. In a survey of 294 affluent hedge fund professionals, we found that 58.8% had an estate plan, but 91.9% reported being wealthier than they were when the plan was drafted and 50.3% said they'd since had a life-changing event, such as a divorce or the birth of a child.
In a similar survey of 1,015 celebrities, including musicians, actors and models, we found that 78.7% had an estate plan, but 87.4% of the plans were more than three years old, 93.1% of the celebrities were wealthier than they were at the time of drafting and 64.3% had experienced a life-changing event. Worse, when we asked the 21.3% that didn't have a plan about their rationale for remaining intestate, about two thirds cited a lack of time.
I could provide additional statistics for other segments of the affluent population, but the pattern wouldn't change. Our most affluent clients, regardless of their fame or their source of wealth, are not protected in the event of an untimely demise. According to About.com, Playboy centerfold model Anna Nicole Smith died in 2009 with an 8-year-old will and Academy Award-nominee Heath Ledger died the previous year with a will that hadn't been updated in five years.
Help your clients avoid similar situations and schedule meetings to discuss their estate planning efforts. The conversations may be difficult, even emotional or contentious, but when they're over and all the associated plans and documents have been updated, you'll both be satisfied that your time was well spent, confident that the assets will be treated according to the client's wishes and, perhaps, more trusting in each other as individuals and professionals.
Hannah Shaw Grove