George Halas Prince, and a Chicago Cop

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Probate Court

What could those three people possibly have in common?

Horrendous estate planning.

Not Having an Estate Plan


Let's dispense with Prince first and then find out why George Halas and a Chicago police officer have unofficially ranked #1 and # 2 as the two worst estates the decades-long Chief Judge of Cook County Probate ever heard.

The musician Prince died on April 21, 2016. He had no estate plan. Six years later, his estate, valued at hundreds of millions of dollars, is still in the predictable mess of the Probate Court system. Because Prince left no estate plan, the state is left to determine how much his estate is worth and who will receive it.  

Having a Plan but not a Good Plan   

If it sounds unimaginable that someone with assets, royalties, and a legacy eventually worth billions didn't plan for the inevitable day he wouldn't be here, the list of well-known people who did the same can fill a book. The court ordered Jackie Onnasis's personal property sold to pay otherwise avoidable estate taxes. James Gandolfini, "Tony Soprano," had a Will but not a Marital Trust, and because of that mistake, his estate paid the IRS $30 million, and his 13-year-old son ended up in the center of, you guessed it, a Probate battle. 

Aretha Franklin, Elvis, Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappos (that estate may never settle), Kobe Bryant; the list goes on.  

George Halas

On October 31, 1983, George Halas died without a Living Trust or a workable succession plan for the Chicago Bears. He wanted his son, Mugsy Halas, to take over the Bears, but Mugsy died suddenly in 1979, and George never created an alternate plan. For over a dozen years, the children of Mugsy and the children of his daughter Virginia McCaskey battled in Cook County Probate Court to the extent that ownership shares of the Bears had to be sold to pay for the legal fees. The Halas kids weren't even invited to the Super Bowl. Today, many fans wish the McCaskeys had sold all their shares.

Most importantly, this mess is not what George Halas wanted for his family and the Chicago Bears.

The Chicago Cop

A Chicago Police Officer died, leaving a Will as his estate plan to provide for his seven children. His kids fought each other in Probate Court for 18 years until there was nothing left in their father's estate. One day, I stood before the chief judge, who told me he hated this case as much as he did George Halas's case. 

Whether it was the grandchildren of George Halas and the future of the Chicago Bears or the children of a Chicago Police Officer and a family's entire savings and legacy, none of it should have happened, and all of it should have been avoided.

Having a Will or no Will as an Estate Plan = Probate 

If there's a Will, there are relatives. And if there isn't a Will, there are even more relatives.

A Will is merely your wishes that a Probate Court follows to distribute your assets. A Last Will and Testament must be probated. This rule comes from the law that no one can legally sign your name. Therefore, if you die with assets in your name, a Probate Court judge must appoint an Executor to sign your name for the asset transfers to your named beneficiaries. The court determines who receives your assets if you do not have a will.

The system cannot handle everyone's estate. Therefore, it can take years to get through the process. And that is if no one contests, which is very easy. It doesn't matter if you are a celebrity; probate is not the way to go.

The police officer's kids fought with each other because they could. Every example I gave above was easily avoidable.  

Living Trust Estate Plan Avoids Probate

I have spent more time in Probate Court than I ever want to remember. So, I dedicated my career to helping people avoid the system and keep their affairs private and their families at peace with each other, and I am grateful for you and your memory. No matter who you are that is a legacy you deserve.

The first hurdle of planning is just getting it done. Estate planning is not high on anyone's list. But we all know how uncertain life is, and none of us are getting out of this thing alive. And none of us know when we will go. 

To avoid massive headaches and expenses for your family and give yourself peace of mind, you need a Living Trust estate plan. 

How Does a Living Trust Work?

Your real estate titles (in all states) transfer from your name to your Trust name. Life insurance policies and deferred compensation accounts can name your Living Trust as beneficiary, subject to essential tax considerations. 

A Living Trust estate plan includes Health Care and Financial Power of Attorney documents. It also consists of a Last Will and Testament. A Will is necessary for the guardianship of minor children. It also transfers assets in your name out of Probate. 

Finally, a Living Trust contains a No Contest provision and beneficiary asset protection clauses.

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Tom Tuohy is the founder Tuohy Law Offices.

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