What we can discover about estate planning from actor Paul Walker

Forbes Magazine recently featured an article discussing what we know about the late Paul Walker's estate. Walker, one of the stars of the popular "Fast and Furious" movies, was killed in a horrific automobile accident. Walker executed his will in 2001 when he was 28 years of age and just prior to the considerable fame and fortune he ultimately reaped from the Fast and Furious movies. Obviously, estate planning is done in preparation for one's eventual death. Due to the fact that none of us like thinking about death, far too many people unnecessarily put off estate planning until sometime in the future.

Unfortunately, since death often happens suddenly and unexpectedly-as happened to Paul Walker-some of us will die without even having had a simple will drafted. From Walker, we learn the valuable lesson that we should not wait until we "get older" before undertaking estate planning. Estate planning is for the young as well as the old. Walker was wise enough to understand the importance of undertaking estate planning at a young age.

Walker's will named his daughter as the sole beneficiary of his estate. In Texas, if you die without having executed a will-meaning that you die "intestate" -your property will be distributed according to the Texas Probate Code rather than how you might have preferred it to be distributed. Essentially, the Texas Probate Code can be looked upon as containing a rigid statutory formula which determines which of your relatives will inherit from you and in exactly what proportion. The law will not guess at what you may have wanted. A second lesson learned from Walker is to avoid dying intestate if you wish to have the final say as to how and to whom your assets are distributed.

Trust planning

A third lesson to be learned from Paul Walker is that good estate planning often consists of more than just having a will. Walker's will left his assets to a trust. The American Bar Association observes that a trust can be useful in estate planning and can do a number of things a will cannot do as well. For example, a trust can manage assets efficiently if you die leaving behind minor beneficiaries-or those under a disability-who cannot look after matters themselves. A trust can also protect your privacy since, unlike a will, a trust is confidential.

Trusts can accomplish a variety of purposes. One trust, known as a "living trust" can allow property to be managed for you if you become incapacitated. If you have young children for whom you wish to assure a good education, a trust can be set up to accommodate that goal. Trusts can be simple or they can be complex. Trusts are governed by the Texas Trust Code. So long as you do not violate some provision of the Texas Trust Code, a trust can include just about any imaginable provisions which accommodate your desires and achieve your planning goals.

Getting started

We often do not have the benefit of being given advance notice that we need to put our affairs in order. Death often comes without warning. Do not put off estate planning if you have loved ones whom you desire to protect financially after you die. An attorney with experience in handling Texas estate planning matters can discuss what type of estate planning is right for you and help put your mind at ease with regard to your loved ones' future.