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This Is Your Cue

We are all fascinated by shiny, bright things, which include celebrities. That’s why we look forward to doing our “Estate Planning Failures” issue each year. We get to have a little fun with an important topic.

The celebrity has always been the stand-in for a better version of us: stronger, sexier, richer and all-around more beguiling. It’s that allure of the life that seems so much more interesting than our own. What teenager wouldn’t want the rock star life?

More than anything, it’s the story of their lives. Besides the rise and inevitable fall that every good drama traces, redemption is the story’s key feature. Either the character finds redemption or his life becomes a morality tale, warning others.

Estate planning advisors (including a fair amount of lawyers) and insurance agents tell us that our examples help with the tough conversations that no one wants to start. I don’t mean to be shilling for our posters here, but some advisors have them hanging in their waiting rooms. So, when clients come into the office for the meeting, they will sometimes marvel, “Huh, Anna Nicole Smith sure messed up her estate” or “Wow, a billionaire like Howard Hughes didn’t have a will?” And, the conversation inevitably leads to the clients’ own estate planning.


That is an obvious benefit from these stories. For me, it’s the celebrities’ ambition and priorities that intrigue me. These folks are exceptionally good at something. OK, it’s not easy to find that in Anna Nicole Smith, except that in her thinner phase she was quite the looker, and in her larger, out-of-control phase she was a tractor-trailer full of fireworks plowing through a fiery 10-car pileup.

Those wrecks leave survivors who have to pull themselves out and move on. The public might have difficulty sparing some pity for people who beg for public attention and then suffer from it. But their relatives, especially their children, are the ones left with the financial and emotional mess.

In the case of Philip Seymour Hoffman, he wanted to be the best actor he could possibly be as well as a family man. He worked diligently to reach the pinnacle of his profession but he did the family thing in half measures.

Hoffman had a will but didn’t update it and didn’t even name two of his three children in his estate planning. Hoffman had a talent for acting and self-destruction, but not for details.

Photos of Hoffman with his family in Manhattan show a guy happy with his family. Contrast that with the photos of his family at his funeral. His son, in particular, looks like he is going to have a rough road ahead of him for a long time, if not always.


Hoffman might never have acted in Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol,” but if the ghost of Christmas future could have brought him to that moment, would he have had second thoughts about the choices he made? No one can ever say. But the sad end of his story is an obvious stand-in for everyone else.

Anyone can see their own loved ones holding their clasped hands to their face, fighting tears.

It’s difficult to put clients in that frame of mind, but when you do, you are the ghost of Christmas future helping clients write their own redemption story. That might sound like an odd role to play, but you are playing some role in their lives. You can be a bit player or a star. You could be the scorn or the savior of a grieving family.

So, please enjoy our tales of estate planning disasters, but don’t forget to pass on the moral of the story.

P.S. We finally have a blog section on our website! Assistant Editor Susan Rupe, Contributing Editor Linda Koco and I will be posting. We expect to be adding to the roster. See the latest ones on the homepage,, or to see all of them. We welcome your comments!

Steven A. Morelli is editor-in-chief for InsuranceNewsNet. He has more than 25 years of experience as a reporter and editor for newspapers, magazines and insurance periodicals. Steve may be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @INNSteveM. [email protected].

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