As 2021 begins, it seems like a no-brainer that it’s bound to be a more positive year than 2020, particularly with the increased availability of effective vaccines. But what can you do to make 2021 a better year?

Tony Hsieh, the retired CEO of Zappos, unexpectedly passed away last fall at age 46. He died of smoke inhalation, following a house fire. Mr. Hsieh’s tragic death goes to show what the events of 2020 have taught us:  that tragedy can befall anyone, at any time. Astonishingly, Mr. Hseish, whose reported net worth was approximately $840 million dollars, appears to have died without an estate plan in place prior to his death.

Very few healthy people in their 40s think they will imminently pass away from smoke inhalation, COVID-19, or anything else. But it does happen. Whether someone’s estate is worth $840 million or $84,000,  an estate is an estate. Without an estate plan, the decedent’s assets will be distributed via the laws of intestate succession, regardless of the decedent’s wishes to the contrary. And, especially in the case of a wealthy person such as Mr. Hsieh, without an estate plan, there is no strategy for reducing federal estate tax liabilities. (Note that Mr. Hsieh was a resident of Nevada, which has no state inheritance taxes unlike the state of Washington.

In addition, the lack of communication to loved ones about whether he had an estate plan undoubtedly caused Mr. Hsieh’s family additional confusion and stress during a time when they already grieved his loss. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal:

The family’s lawyers wrote that they “seek authority to investigate the existence of an estate plan by accessing safe deposit boxes, speaking with the Decedent’s legal counsel and associates, and taking such other reasonable acts to ensure that Decedent’s properly executed testamentary directives are implemented.” Family members “need to gain access to the Decedent’s personal papers that may be in a safe deposit box or in the possession of legal counsel. The inability to readily locate any such fully executed estate planning documents has created a delay in the ability to file to have letters of administration or letters testamentary issued.”

Do you have an estate plan? If so, have you clearly communicated all necessary information to your loved ones so that, if the unexpected happens, they won’t be scrambling to locate estate planning documents that may or may not exist? Having an estate plan is something that is within your control, and it is a positive step in making 2021 a more positive year. Are you ready to move forward? We’d be happy to help.

This post is for informational purposes and does not contain or convey legal advice. The information herein should not be used or relied upon in regard to any particular facts or circumstances without first consulting with an attorney.

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