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So…You Want to Leave Your Massive Estate to a Zoo?!

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I’m a very lucky man. I work in a business where my job is to help and protect people and I actually get paid for it! On top of that, I have the best clients who often send me (sometimes hilarious) articles about estate planning. For our 40th End-Of-The-Month-Newsletter (yes, 40 months of newsletters!) I’d like to share a couple of these articles with you!

Imagine you’re an attorney, and your clients come in with a large estate ($22 million). They have no children, and they are Holocaust survivors. The question is, where will they leave their vast fortune?

Immediately the husband stands up and says, “I know! I want to donate my fortune to a zoo! Not just any zoo – but a zoo in…Germany!”

If I was that planner I’d probably fall out of my chair – yet that’s exactly what happened a couple of weeks ago in New Jersey. A 93 year-old widow has pledged to donate her husband’s massive fortune to the Cologne Zoo in Germany. She even set up a foundation and zoo will start receiving $1 million a year!

CLICK HERE to read more. It’s wild.

Another client shared a much sadder (but with a happy-ish ending) story with me about another widow. Max Hopper (an American Airlines executive) died in 2010 without a will and as a result his widow (Jo) was lost in understanding how to administer her husband’s $19 million estate.

Related: KFC’s 11 Secret Herbs & Spices: What Can be Learned From an Estate Planning Perspective

If you are reading this and still don’t have a will, or you know someone who does not have a will, think about Jo for a second. Her husband dies, and she has no idea how to handle his estate. What would you do in that situation? Instead of her husband being able to provide for his wife after death, Max left her to her own devices and she was easy prey for a company (or someone else) to take advantage of her.

A jury found J.P. Morgan, the company Jo hired to administer Max’s estate, guilty of fraud and of breaching their fiduciary duty to her. The jury awarded her $4 billion in damages. You read that right. To read more about it CLICK HERE.

There are a few lessons to understand here. First, you absolutely cannot leave your heirs out on a lurch when you pass, especially if you have a sizeable estate (think Prince). And second, if you take on a fiduciary duty (as an executor, power of attorney, trustee), it’s a serious responsibility and you cannot take it lightly. You might pay the price. You definitely will if you commit fraud.

Lastly, if someone who you give power of attorney to does, in fact, breach that duty, you do have recourse. Jo sued J.P. Morgan and won a huge verdict. I don’t think you will win a verdict that high (if you do – I know a few lawyers who can help!), but understand that you can fight back, you’re not a victim if someone you trust breaches that (legal) relationship.

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