Billion-Dollar Verdict Underscores Need for Estate Plan

Billion-Dollar Verdict Underscores Need for Estate Plan

gavel estate plan

Last month, a Dallas jury ordered JPMorgan Chase & Co. to pay more than $4 billion in damages for mishandling the estate of a former American Airlines executive. While an appeal will likely knock that judgment down a bit, the verdict underscores a vital need for everyone to have a solid will and estate plan in place.

When AA exec Max Hopper died in 2010, he left behind more than $19 million in assets. But without a will and testament, JPMorgan assigned an administrator to split the assets among family members. The problem, the family said, was the banking giant took years to divvy up Hopper’s art, jewelry, furniture, and private collections, including 6,700 golf putters and 900 bottles of wine, according to The Dallas Morning News. Hence, the family sued, citing fraud and a breach in contract, and a jury agreed.

Now, it’s probable that judgment will be reduced to millions instead of billions after the appeals process. After all, the U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled in cases like these that awards cannot be disproportionate to actual damages. But the ruling does highlight a real-world issue many families face when a loved one dies without a proper estate plan in place.

Have a Plan

Hopper isn’t the only wealthy individual to die without a will — recording artist Prince didn’t have one when he passed away in 2016. Neither did Jimi Hendrix, Pablo Picasso, or Abraham Lincoln. In fact, with only 44 percent of Americans reporting they have a will in a Gallup poll, it’s clear a majority of those living in the U.S. don’t have one. Are you part of that group?

Answer these quick questions:

  • Do you have a spouse and/or children? (You need a will.)
  • Do you own a home and assets totaling more than $100,000? (You need a will.)
  • Do you have a pension, 401(k), or investments? (Guess what? You need a will.)

The reality is nearly all of us need an estate plan in place that documents what happens to everything we possess that holds value (be in monetary or sentimental). Even a simple will is better than nothing at all.

Let Your Family Know Your Intentions

Though I’ve seen people who do, it’s probably not the best idea to keep your will a secret from your loved ones. After all, they’ll find out what you’re leaving to whom eventually. But making your intentions known early often reduces confusion and hurt feelings down the road.

I’m reminded of the story of a West Texas rancher who had some serious doubts about leaving part of his fortune to one of his sons. This was the son that was always in trouble, always making a scene. That son, upon hearing he might one day be cut out of his father’s will, turned things around, got sober, worked hard, and earned the admiration and respect of his father. No doubt that rancher felt relief knowing his son’s portion of the inheritance wouldn’t be squandered.

Don’t Let Someone Else Decide

The Hopper case is a good example of what can go wrong if someone else is making the decisions after you’re gone. How is a stranger – a lawyer or a judge – to know who deserves what and in what proportion? Better to eliminate that risk altogether and make your own plan.

Using an estate planning attorney means you’ve got an objective voice in the room as you consider your options. They’ll pay attention to the details and look at the big picture. Most offer free consultations to discuss how best to approach planning for your estate and that’s when you can ask about costs. (For a full estate plan, $1,500 is a good ballpark figure.) You’ll be in the driver’s seat when it comes to specifying what happens to your properties, your assets, and your legacy.

I hope it’s clear that anyone and everyone really needs a will. If you call me today at (214) 974-8940, I’ll be happy to answer any questions you might have. We’ll schedule one of those free consultations and talk about how best to get your estate plan in order.

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ATTORNEY CHRIS PARVIN is Board Certified in Estate Planning & Probate Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. Mr. Parvin is the Managing Partner of the Dallas, Texas law firm of Parvin Law Group, P.C. and serves as an Adjunct Professor of Law at Texas A&M University School of Law. Mr. Parvin can be reached by email at chris@parvinlaw.com.

Parvin Law Group, P.C. is a Concierge Law Firm in Dallas, Texas with attorneys practicing law in the fields of Estate Planning, Probate, Business Law and Family Law.