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These celebrity estates hide some sobering lessons

In many ways, celebrities are not that much different from everyone else. For example, they may not fully understand the complications that could arise from wills, trusts and probate procedure.

For everyday people, especially those with high-value estates, these errors can be devastating. In the world of the rich and famous, however, such issues are often amplified — sometimes to the tune of millions of dollars. Here are some of the most shocking examples.

Trust problems

Plenty of things can go wrong with trusts, but simply not funding or using them are the most common missteps. Michael Jackson's estate, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, included a trust that never had any money added. Philip Seymour Hoffman's estate ended up paying federal taxes due to a complete lack of trusts.

Will debates

Wills have their own set of issues. For example, beneficiaries and interested parties must be able to locate the document — something that was never possible in the case of gold medalist Florence Griffith Joyner's estate. Both Whitney Houston and Heath Ledger died with outdated terms that excluded recent earnings and family members respectively. Prince Rogers Nelson did not leave a will at all.

Inheritance confusion

Many people think of written wills as the be-all-end-all of estate planning documents. However, some oral promises could come into play, as was the case in the estate of Marlon Brando. His house was allegedly promised as a gift. However, in the absence of completed paperwork supporting that promise, the interested party decided to file a lawsuit. 

It is only human to want to delay planning or omit certain recommended estate steps. Even celebrities with vast amounts of resources sometimes omit certain steps that may have made the estate distribution process simpler. This is why most estate planning advisors suggest proactive precautions and long-term, regular maintenance.

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