Tom Clancy & What We Can Learn From a Plan Gone Wrong

 In Estate Planning

“Success is the sum of details.”

-Harvey S. Firestone

The Hunt for Red October, Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, and The Sum of All Fears…ring any bells?  Bestselling author, Tom Clancy, acquired a fortune worth over 100 million dollars during his life.  While he was mostly known for his successful books, the bulk of his wealth came from his 12 percent ownership stake in the Baltimore Orioles.  When he died two years ago at the age of 66, he likely believed he had all of his affairs in order.  After all, he had an estate plan. So why are the people that he loved now embroiled in an ugly legal battle?

The beneficiaries are arguing about taxes. Forgoing the complexities, the basic question is about whose portion of Tom’s estate carries the tax burden: his wife’s two-thirds, or the remaining one-third left to his four children of a previous marriage?  His wife, Alexandra Clancy – with whom he had one child – argued that before his death, Tom had modified his will to ensure that Alexandra’s inheritance would be covered by the marital deduction, bypassing any taxation.  Of course, the four oldest children saw things differently.  Recently, a Baltimore Judge issued a ruling in favor of Alexandra.  However, even though the judge found in the wife’s favor, he acknowledged that there were portions of the will to support both parties’ claims.  No doubt, this case is not over; an appeal seems inevitable.

Tom had an estate plan to avoid this very thing from happening. What went wrong?

Make no mistake; this case has little to do with taxes, and everything to do with details. Tom’s intentions were not clear enough to avoid this family mess. Details matter – and they should matter to all of us for the sake of our loved ones. Whether you will leave an inheritance of twenty-five thousand dollars, or over 100 million dollars, the details of your estate plan can be the difference between a successful plan, and family strife.

Tom didn’t draft his own will; he relied on his attorney. So you might ask: what can I do? There are a couple of things you, the client, can do to make sure you’re estate plan will be as strong as it can be. You might consider seeking out a qualified attorney who specializes in estate planning and for whom estate planning is either their sole area of practice, or one of only 2 or 3 areas of practice.  The more areas of practice an attorney has, the less time he or she will have to devote to continuing education in the area of estate planning.  The other thing you need to do is make sure you are updating your estate plan whenever you experience a major life change, and at least every five years.  Your attorney can only help you if you fully and accurately communicate with him or her; it really is a team effort.  Are you keeping up with your part?

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