Estate Plans are not just for Billionaires, but they should get them too!

Estate Planning is one of those important things we all know we need to do at some point in our
lifetime. We always believe we have more time and that is true, until there is no more time. We
cannot predict when we will pass or become incapacitated, but once an Estate Plan is in place it
is in place forever.

If you die in California without a Trust or Will, your assets will pass pursuant to the laws of
intestate succession as defined in Probate Code § 6400 et set. Your estate will be distributed to
your family pursuant to a strict, non-contestable progression.

Let’s take the story of Howard Hughes, the richest man in the world between 1960s to 1980s, as
a cautionary tale. In one of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Oscar worthy roles, The Aviator, he played the
eccentric aviator, inventor, movie producer, and business tycoon Howard Hughes. If you have
not watched it, you should. It is an amazing film about the rise and fall of Hughes who battled
OCD, paranoia, and physical pain related to a near death plane crash.

In 2023, at the age of 18, Hughes had inherited almost a million dollars (almost $18,000,000.00
in 2023) and Hughes Tool Company from his father. He turned his inheritance to a business
empire, which in 1926 he expanded into Hollywood creating the notable movies Two Arabian
Knights, Hell’s Angels, Sky Devils, Scarface, and The Outlaw. From there, Hughes began
investing heavily into the aviation industry creating Hughes Aircraft Company in 1934 and
acquiring Trans World Airlines in 1939. In the 1950s, Hughes began buying up real estate in
California, Arizona, and Nevada that later skyrocketed in value. In 1967 Hughes began buying
Las Vegas casinos, airports, and most of the undeveloped vacant land. In the early 1970s Hughes
became a recuse and dropped out of the public view.

In 1976, Hughes died of organ failure while traveling from Acapulco to Huston in his airplane.
He was 70 years old.

At the time of his death, Howard Hughes’s net worth was approximately $2.5 billion the
wealthiest man in the world at the time. Today, that would be approximately $13.5 billion.
Hughes, who if he did not make a single dollar more would be almost breaking the top 100 on
today’s Forbes billionaire list), died intestate, with no estate plan whatsoever.

The Probate process can be expensive, take time, and is public. Probate of an intestate estate can
cause absolute chaos and confusion, even more so when the estate in question is worth billions,
with no direct heirs. For the Hughes estate, the final asset was sold and distributed in 2010, over
34 years after his demise.

Following the death of Hughes, many documents surfaced purporting to be Hughes’s Will. After
years of litigation, they were all determined to be forgery. After the forgeries were taken care of,
the Nevada Court determined that Hughes died intestate and that his estate would be distributed
to his heirs-at-law.

Hughes was divorced, had no children, no siblings, and no close living relatives. In 1984, the
vast majority of his $2.5 billion estate ended up being divided amongst 22 cousins.
In California, if you do not have an Estate Plan, the State has one for you, it is called intestate
succession. Proper estate planning can avoid the unintended consequences of the laws of
intestate succession. Do you think that Howard Hughes intended for his estate, that he grew from
$1 million dollars to over $2.5 billion dollars to be distributed to first cousins, some of which he
likely never met or knew?

We offer free consultations for new estate plans as well as for review of previous estate plans.
Many of our clients elect to schedule an annual check-up, but we recommend reviewing your
estate plan with an attorney at least every three years.

Schedule your free consultation today!