Tony Hseih, the force behind Zappos.com, recently died in a fire in Connecticut. He was worth many, many millions of dollars. Generally not a problem most of us will have but like many of us, he did not have any plan in place for his incapacity and passing.
He survived for a number of days after being rescued from the fire and his cousin petitioned a Las Vegas Court to name herself his power of attorney. She was denied, but we don’t know is she someone Tony would have wanted as his agent, controlling ALL his business and personal affairs while he was incapacitated.
He did not have a will or trust, that we know of, so ALL his many hundreds of million dollars is now subject to probate and all its delays, expense, and public nature. His father and brother have been named special administrators. Again, is this what Tony would have wanted? We don’t know.
We also don’t know what state rules apply. Where did Tony “reside,” Nevada, Utah, California, Connecticut? Since we don’t know that it’s possible that multiple states’ probate and tax rules will apply to specific property (homes, business interests, etc.).
Additionally, Tony left “thousands of color-coded sticky notes covered the walls, many representing financial commitments…made to employees, friends and local businesses.” (WSJ – see below) Are these enforceable contracts? This will complicate his estate administration even further.
He also struggled with substance abuse issues…so are the above “promises” even binding? Did he have the required capacity to enter into them? That will likely be litigated involving more time and expense.
He left a mess! Most of us will never have to deal with anything of this scale for our family, friends or selves. However, a mess is a mess! We all have the ability to set up a plan whereby our stuff is documented/cataloged, packaged to provide easier administration to the individual WE CHOOSE to handle our stuff.
“Because, really, a [plan] isn’t about you. It’s a gift to the people you leave behind…estate planning isn’t just for the rich. Without instructions on how you want to distribute your assets, you may leave a legacy of chaos. In the worst cases, relationships are forever fractured, because you didn’t take the time to prepare.” (Washington Post – Personal Finance Column see below)