Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Pitfalls of “Do-It-Yourself” in Estate Planning

In tough economic times, many of us are trying to reduce expenses in any way we can. Fewer dinners out, "stay-cations" and clipping coupons may be part of a strategy to shrink a household budget. There are some who will attempt to create their own estate plans, or update their existing plans, in order to save money. Sometimes our "do-it-yourself" efforts can result in expensive, unintended consequences.

Adam "MCA" Yauch, a member of the musical group the Beastie Boys, died this spring in New York. His attorney-prepared Will contained a specific provision regarding the prohibition of using Mr. Yauch’s name or likeness in any advertising. But at some point after he executed his Will, Mr. Yauch, in his own handwriting, inserted in his Will the part of the following excerpt that appears in bold: "in no event may my image or name or any music or any artistic property created by me be used for advertising purposes." This handwritten addition may lead to controversy, as Mr. Yauch, while having every right to restrict his publicity rights, may have no right to restrict the use of the Beastie Boys catalogue, which is governed by the laws of copyright. Also, the New York court may hold that such handwritten addition does not satisfy the legal requirements for execution of a codicil (an amendment to a Will) and the addition may be removed.

Although Mr. Yauch’s intention in handling his own estate planning revision was probably not aimed at cost-savings, the failure to consult a professional to assist with this change may lead to litigation for his estate; an expensive result for any estate. And if the New York courts hold the provision invalid, Mr. Yauch’s intentions, to whatever extent he could legally proscribe them in his Will, are left unfulfilled.

Lesson learned? If a change you want to make to your estate plan is important to you, seek guidance from a professional to ensure it will be legally binding. Saving your family from uncertainty or, at worst, litigation, may be well worth the expense.

For more information, go to Adam Yauch.