Larry King’s Death Highlights the Importance of Updating Your Estate Plan for Divorce and Death—Part 2
Legendary TV and radio host, Larry King, died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on January 23rd, 2021. Larry was hospitalized in December due to COVID-19, but he’d recently been moved from the ICU to a regular hospital room after making a recovery. However, the famed broadcaster suffered from a number of additional health conditions over the years. He passed away from sepsis that was the result of an unrelated infection.
Last week, in part one of this series, we discussed how Larry’s decision to create a handwritten will, rather than take the time to consult with legal counsel to update his plan for his impending divorce, is likely to result in a lengthy court battle between Larry’s seventh wife and his surviving children. Moreover, we also noted that Larry would have been far better off using a Lifetime Asset Protection Trust, to distribute his assets to his children upon his death.
Here, we’ll first look at the different ways a Lifetime Asset Protection Trust would have benefited Larry’s children. From there, we’ll discuss the complications that are likely to arise given that two of Larry’s children died before he had the chance to update his plan—and the planning lessons we can take away from this mistake.
Lifetime Asset Protection Trusts: Airtight Protection For Your Child’s Inheritance
A Lifetime Asset Protection Trust is a unique Wills and Trusts planning vehicle that’s specifically designed to protect your children’s inheritance from unfortunate life events. The trust also gives your children the ability to access and invest their inheritance while retaining airtight asset protection for their entire lives.
For someone with as much wealth and as many heirs as Larry, a Lifetime Asset Protection Trust, built into his Living Trust, would have been an ideal way to protect and pass on his assets to his heirs. To understand why, let’s break down how these unique trusts work.
To avoid the court process of probate that’s inherent with a will-based plan, most lawyers will advise you to put the assets in a revocable living trust. However, most living trusts are structured to distribute your assets outright to your children at certain ages. Giving outright ownership of the trust assets in this way leaves the assets at serious risk of being lost or squandered.
While a living trust may protect your loved ones’ inheritance, once the assets are distributed to the beneficiary, all of the protection provided by your trust disappears. For example, let’s say Larry’s youngest sons Chance, 21, and Cannon, 20, obtained debt while in college. If they were to receive one-third of their inheritance at age 25, creditors could take their money if it’s paid to them as a outright distribution.
The same thing would be true if Larry’s oldest son, Larry Jr., 58, got divorced soon after receiving his inheritance as his soon-to-be ex-wife who would claim a right to the funds in the divorce settlement.
In contrast, a Lifetime Asset Protection Trust gives a Trustee full discretion on whether to make distributions or not. The Trustee has full authority to determine how and when the assets should be released. You can even choose to make your beneficiary the Trustee of their own trust for even more flexibility and control.
For example, if Larry Jr. was in the process of getting divorced, the Trustee could refuse to distribute any funds. Therefore, the Trust assets would remain shielded from his future ex-wife should Larry Jr. be ordered to pay damages resulting from a lawsuit.
Because the Trustee controls access to the inheritance, those assets are not only protected from outside threats like ex-spouses and creditors, but also from your child’s own poor judgment. For example, if Chance ever develops a substance abuse or gambling problem, the Trustee could withhold distributions until he receives treatment.
What’s more, you can write up guidelines to the Trustee, providing him or her with clear directions about how you’d like the trust assets to be used. This ensures the Trustee is aware of your values and wishes when making distributions.
In addition to airtight asset protection, a Lifetime Asset Protection Trust can also be set up to give your child hands-on experience managing financial matters. For an in-depth discussion of how this works as well as the other benefits offered by a Lifetime Asset Protection Trust, you can read our previous post, Lifetime Asset Protection Trusts: Airtight Protection For Your Child’s Inheritance.
Although a Lifetime Asset Protection Trust would have been a great way for Larry to protect and pass on his assets, such trusts aren’t for everyone. That said, contrary to what you might think, Lifetime Asset Protection Trusts are not just for the wealthy.
Indeed, these protective trusts are even more useful if you’re leaving a modest inheritance. This is true because the smaller the inheritance, the more at risk it is of getting wiped out by a single unfortunate event. However, if your kids are going to spend the vast majority of their inheritance on everyday expenses, such trusts probably don’t make much sense.
Meet with us, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, to see if a Lifetime Asset Protection Trust is the right option for you and your family.
Larry Is Predeceased By Two of His Five Children
The final factor complicating Larry’s estate is the fact that two of his five adult children died just a few months prior to his death. His son Andy King, 65, unexpectedly passed away of a heart attack in late July 2020 and his daughter Chaia King, 51, died just three weeks later in August from lung cancer. Both children were from Larry’s marriage to his third wife.
While Andy and Chaia predeceased their father, Larry apparently didn’t update his Will and Trust. His handwritten will, which was created in October 2019, simply states that in the event of his death, “I want 100% of my funds to be divided equally among my children Andy, Chaia, Larry Jr., Chance, and Cannon.”
Had Larry worked with Wills and Trusts planning lawyers to keep his plan updated, his legal team would have ensured that his will and all of his other planning documents were immediately updated to account for the death of any of his beneficiaries. Along those same lines, had Larry worked with lawyers to amend his plan, his documents would have been drafted with provisions that would address the potential for one (or more) of his beneficiaries to pre-decease him. This would allow for Larry’s assets would pass to the appropriate person or persons even if the will had not been up dated.
Based on California law, the share of Larry’s assets that would pass to Andy and Chaia through his handwritten will are likely to pass to their children (Larry’s grandchildren). However, this all depends on whether or not his wife at the time of his death is able to successfully contest Larry’s handwritten will in court. If she is successful, then Larry’s handwritten will would be deemed invalid. His assets would then be divided based on whatever previous Will and Trust Larry had in place.
Regardless of what happens to Andy and Chaia’s shares, Larry’s plan should have been amended to account for their deaths. This brings us to our third Wills and Trusts planning lesson.
Lesson #3: Review your plan annually to make sure it’s up to date, and immediately modify your plan following events like births, deaths, divorce, and inheritances.
As Larry’s case shows, your plan won’t do you any good if it’s not regularly properly updated. Estate planning is not a one-and-done type of deal. Your plan should continuously evolve to keep pace with changes in your family structure, the legal landscape, your assets, and your life goals.
Unfortunately, this kind of thing happens all the time. In fact, outside of not creating any Will and Trust at all, one of the most common planning mistakes we encounter is when we get called by the loved ones of someone who has become incapacitated or died with a plan that no longer valid because it hasn’t been updated.
We recommend you review your plan annually to keep it current. We also recommend that you immediately update it following major life events like births, deaths, divorce, and inheritances. We have built-in systems and processes to ensure your plan is always up to date.
If you’ve yet to create a plan, have DIY documents, or have a plan created with another lawyer’s help that hasn’t been reviewed recently, meet with us, as your Personal Family Lawyer®. We can help ensure that your plan stays 100% current so that it works exactly as intended no matter what.
Don’t Do It Yourself
As Larry King’s story demonstrates, do-it-yourself planning can have terrible consequences for your loved ones. To ensure your estate is handled exactly as you wish, contact us, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, to review and update your current plan, or create one if you have yet to do so.
With a Personal Family Lawyer® on your side, you’ll have access to the same planning tools and protections that A-list celebrities use. These tools are designed to keep your family out of court or conflict no matter what happens. Contact us today to learn more.
This article is a service of Levi L. Alexander, Personal Family Lawyer®. We do not just draft documents. We help to ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. This is why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™. During this session, you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session for free.