With the continuous media coverage over the recent tragic death of the actor Paul Walker, it should be a reminder to think about planning for your eventual passing, no matter what your age.
Many people come to estate planning lawyers or think about getting a living trust or a will when they are getting close to retirement; however, most everyone should think about the one event in your life that you can bet will happen, your eventual passing.
With Mr. Walker, several issues come up that it is too early to know the answer to. Even though he was only 40, how did he prepare for the eventuality that has now happened? His daughter moved to California from Hawaii to be near him. Since she is only 15, who is her legal guardian and where will she live now that he is gone?
I don’t know how much Mr. Walker was worth, but I am sure he had substantial assets and probably life insurance in place. Were those assets to pass directly to his daughter, to his parents, to the mother of his child? If he didn’t have a trust or will in place, the State of California would make those decisions. Good planning can involve preparing a trust to avoid the costs of probate court and set out exactly what should happen to your assets. In this case, a typical trust would have things in it to say how much money goes to his daughter, when, and under what conditions. Maybe that includes only giving half when she turns 25 and the other half when she turns 40. Maybe it includes provisions so that she can’t get anything if she starts abusing drugs or alcohol. These are just some of the concerns, even for a relatively young person planning for the “just in case.”
In terms of asset protection, if Mr. Walker was driving (although it sounds like he wasn’t) and was driving recklessly or under the influence, his estate would probably face a potential wrongful death suit from any passenger in the vehicle’s family. If his assets are not properly protected, all of the money and property he has earned could be open for a contingency lawyer to go after and his daughter or family could be left with nothing. Some early steps could help transfer some assets away from potential creditors and toward family, charities, or other places someone would want their money to end up after their death. A common misconception is that if you get a living trust online or even through an attorney, that you are protected. That is not the case. A living trust is a revocable agreement that provides no protection of your assets from potential creditors.
This is just another tragic situation that should remind people to be sure their affairs are in order for that “just in case” moment.