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Singer's estate teaches importance of estate planning

One month ago, singer Jenni Rivera died in a plane crash in Mexico. After a sudden death like hers, family members may look for an estate plan. Reports indicate that Rivera left a signed letter in which she named her sister as guardian of her two minor children and stated that her sister should manage her company and assets which are reportedly worth $25 million.

However, it is unclear how this letter will be treated since it was not prepared officially by an estate planning attorney. Depending on state laws, a letter of this type could either be treated as a will or it could have no legal significance since it was informally written. Florida residents who have not already created a will may want to look into Florida's laws regarding estate administration and wills so their estate plans are sure to be followed.

Rivera lived in California, which Forbes reports accepts a signed will even if it was not prepared formally. However, her letter may only be construed as a will if it was intended to be a will. So, there is still uncertainty over how Rivera's estate will be managed.

An additional complication in Rivera's estate administration is that she and her third husband filed for divorce about two months before her death. However, since the couple's divorce had not been finalized, her husband could potentially receive half of her assets.

Rivera most likely did not expect that the letter she wrote and signed would need to be used so soon. The situation of her estate demonstrates the importance of making estate plans even though one may not expect them to be used soon. In addition, updating one's estate plan or will after a significant change occurs like a divorce or a child's birth is critical.

Florida residents who have not laid out an estate plan may want to do so as soon as possible. No one wants to think about when their estate plan will need to be used, but having a plan in place can save time and avoid complications later on. Rivera's sister and husband will likely face numerous difficulties as a result of this unclear estate plan. A clear and updated estate plan could eliminate potential challenges for surviving family members.

Source: Forbes, "Jenni Rivera's estate heading for turmoil," Danielle and Andy Mayoras, Jan. 7, 2013

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