Brittany Murphy’s death has certainly come as a shock to the world.  In a way, it is even more shocking to learn that the death was “due to natural causes,” according to the Los Angeles coroner.  Her husband, British screenwriter Simon Monjack, is in shock and is quoted as stating, “I am feeling beyond devastated.”  The shock and grief associated with the death of a loved one can never be prepared for or softened.

The death of one as young as Brittany Murphy reminds us all of our fragile mortality and punctuates the uncertainty of life.  As an individual, I see a personal tragedy on several levels.  As an attorney, I hope she had her legal ducks in a row.  Her death reminds us of our obligations that need to be attended to.  It makes a huge difference.

Michael Jackson also died this year.  His death was also a personal tragedy, but he had done his legal homework, and his estate lives on.  You might remember that after his death the media squared off to have a heyday reporting on the financial dealings of his large troubled empire.  After the first week, it was disclosed that the foundation of his empire was a living revocable trust.  The trust had been maintained. (Just having a trust document isn’t enough.  It has to be used and “maintained.”)  I imagine the media gave a great groan, when they learned the trust was in place, because they were shut out of the juicy details of Michael Jackson’s estate.

If Brittany Murphy had a good living revocable trust and had actually used it to control her empire, the media will be disappointed again.  The living trust is the legal tool rich people use for privacy.  You might note that it also provides privacy for the not so rich.  You may not be rich, but that doesn’t mean your privacy shouldn’t be high on your list of estate planning goals.  You would be amazed who watches the estate filings at the courthouse.  All of the filed documents are public.  Avoid all the mess by using the private living trust. Nothing is filed.  There is no probate.  The trust avoids the legal mess people have when a family member dies.

Brittany Murphy was only 32 years old.  As an attorney, I handle the estates of many people who died in their 30’s.  When do you need to worry about establishing a living trust for yourself?  That’s a judgment call.  Certainly when you have children, they need to be protected by a will and living trust.  You aren’t doing your estate planning for yourself.  You form a living trust to help and protect the loved ones you leave behind at your death.  You need a trust when you start to accumulate assets.  Brittany Murphy certainly had amassed a large estate.  We’ll see what unfolds during the next couple of weeks.

Protecting Your Financial Future is a book that walks you through how to do your estate planning.  Even for “Middle American” families, estate planning done properly can mean an extra million dollars or more for each generation.  The problem is attorneys take advantage of those who don’t know what they want and how their estate should be protected.  You can’t just blindly walk in off the street and say, “Hi.  Here I am Mr. Attorney.  Set me up.”  Because, you are going to get set up.  Protecting Your Financial Future teaches you how to avoid the set up.

Brittany Murphy’s death is a personal tragedy, but if she has done her planning, it won’t be a legal tragedy for those she left behind.

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