Television show puts a human dimension on estate planning

How can an individual avoid inheritance disputes when there is a family business and multiple heirs, perhaps from different marriages? Should the analysis change when one or more heirs actively participate in the business? 

Although television may not be the most credible source for such answers, a recent show at least provides context to this example. The show, called “Empire,” might be characterized as a primetime soap opera. The story centers around a character named Lucious Lyon who is forced to think about estate planning after receiving a diagnosis of ALS. That the character also owns a company and has three sons — and potential successors — adds to the drama.

Although estate planning may not provide such entertainment in the real world, the show illustrates that the choice of how to transfer a family business is really up to its owner. With the help of a skilled estate-planning attorney, the task of setting up that transfer does not have to be a burden. 

It’s important to remember that estate planning can also be approached in large categories. For example, a married individual is able to transfer marital property to his or her surviving spouse almost automatically, without incurring tax consequences in most cases. Other contractual assets, like retirement or life-insurance policies, do not have to go through probate before passing to the named beneficiary. Notably, that named beneficiary could even be a trust, rather than an individual.

Although it may take a little time to set up a trust and thoroughly draft a will, the peace of mind that comes with such planning is well worth the effort. Check out our firm’s estate-planning page to learn more.

Source: Wealth Management, “Empire: The Best Estate Planning Drama on TV,” David H. Lenok, April 2, 2015

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