Estate Planning Lessons from the Grateful Dead

Estate Planning Lessons from the Grateful Dead

In the past few weeks there has been a consistent theme surfacing with my clients that had me thinking about Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead.  (I realize that as an estate planner, talking about a band called “Grateful Dead” might sound odd, or perhaps even disturbing, but I digress.) Many of my clients are beneficiaries in wills who are dealing with incompetent executors. As a firm who handles estate administration cases, there is nothing worse than an incompetent executor, and nothing better than a great executor. Which leads to us Jerry.

In 1995, Jerry Garcia died of a heart attack at 53 years old.  Jerry’s estate was worth a little under $7 million, which does not include royalties for his music and other passions (yes, I’m referring to the ice cream flavor Cherry Garcia!).

Jerry’s last will appointed his third wife Deborah as co-executrix of his estate.  Deborah was also a 1/3 beneficiary of his estate (which is common under many states’ elective share laws). Garcia also included support for his second wife, Carolyn, and child support for his daughter Keelin.

Deborah decided to cut off alimony payments to Carolyn, and so Carolyn sued Deborah for breaching her fiduciary duty as executrix of Jerry’s estate. Carolyn eventually won in court, but she had to settle for much less than her judgment because she wanted to end the case quickly and avoid being locked in court for many years to come.

The point of this story, and the stories of my clients, is that choosing your executor is not something that should be taken lightly.  Do not just choose someone because they are your oldest child, or because you are too lazy to think of anyone else. Choose someone responsible, trustworthy, someone who will get it right.  It’s usually wiser to choose someone who is trustworthy and honest even if you think you might insult one of your children.

Calmly explain in a “letter of instruction” that you love your children, but you thought this other person or institution was the right choice for your estate.  They might be angry in the short run, but when your estate is settled amicably, and everyone receives his or her fair share, you’ll cause less strife in the long run.  And, most importantly, your children will remember you as someone who promoted peace in all stages of life.

If you have any estate administration cases in New Jersey or New York, we can certainly help you with them.  Feel free to call me at (908) 236-6457 or email me at

Happy New Year, and thanks for reading!

Pitfalls to Avoid When Planning Your Estate

NJ Estate Planning Mistakes

Pitfalls to Avoid When Planning Your Estate

Estate planning is an immensely important, yet sometimes overlooked step in life. After all, don’t you want your family, loved ones and favorite charities to benefit from your success after you pass away? Regardless of whether you have thought about or even begun planning your estate, you should consult a lawyer for help creating a sound, smart plan.

This is especially true as you accumulate more assets and properties. While you may be in perfect health and your demise may be the furthest thought from your mind, the future is undetermined. In the event that you suddenly fall ill or are fatally injured in an accident, what will happen to your spouse, children and other loved ones?

While the thought of your family members not being cared for after your death may spark some sense of urgency in regards to estate planning, the process should not be rushed. A detailed, carefully thought out estate plan that takes longer to create is better than one thrown together in a day without professional guidance.

Consider the following common pitfalls you should avoid when planning your estate:

  • Failing to create an estate plan — The reasons for not creating an estate plan or will are many and diverse — fear of death, legal costs, difficult family situationsetc. Truthfully, it is never too soon to create a will, but it may be too late if you keep putting it off.
  • Not sweating the little things — Many people planning an estate on their own only concern themselves with large properties and assets. Yet it is extremely important that your will covers the little things — jewelry, art, collectibles, instruments, bicycles, furniture and other items of monetary or sentimental value. In fact, in many cases, it is these seemingly insignificant items that lead to beneficiary disputes. Never assume your loved ones will know or figure out who should get what when it comes to the little things.
  • Not consulting with an estate planning lawyer — You may have a brother, sister, cousin or friend who practices law. However, unless he or she is an estate planning attorney, the help offered could do more harm than good. When planning your estate, it is essential that you consult with lawyer who focuses his or her practice on wills, trusts and other related matters.
  • Failure to update your will — If you’ve created a will, you may be inclined to feel relieved, thinking that your work is done and your loved ones are taken care of if you should suddenly pass away. However, as your life circumstances change, your must update your will. For example, if you become a new parent or grandparent, you’ll want your will to list your new family member as a beneficiary.

Those listed are just a few of the mistakes you should avoid in estate planning. By retaining the services of a skilled attorney prior to drafting your will and other documents, you can ensure your legacy is protected and passed on to the people you care about. If you have questions about estate planning in Union County or Hunterdon County, New Jersey, consult Alec Borenstein, Esq., a partner with the firm, by emailing or calling 908-236-6457 today.


By at .