Squabbles Between Conway Twitty’s Heirs Highlight the Importance of a Properly Updated Estate Plan

Discussing death can be awkward, and many people would prefer just to ignore estate planning all together. However, ignoring-or even putting off-such planning can be a huge mistake, as some celebrity stories will highlight.

The next time one of your relatives tells you they don't want to talk about estate planning, below is a story you can share to get the conversation started. Such cautionary tales offer first-hand evidence of just how critical it is to engage in estate planning, even if it's uncomfortable.

On example is country music star and native Arkansas, Conway Twitty. On June 5, 1993, Twitty died suddenly at 59 years old. He left a wife (his third wife, Dee) and four adult children - three of whom were from his second marriage. After his death, his will was submitted for probate, which provided that his entire estate would be left to his four children. The administration of the estate, however, was not so simple.

Twitty had not updated his will since 1984, and he married his surviving spouse, Dee, in 1987. Dee, therefore, challenged the will, asserting that, by Tennessee law, she was entitled to a 1/3 share of his estate as his surviving spouse.

A legal battle ensued between his widow and his children which lasted years, costing tens of thousands of dollars. Ultimately, all of Twitty's assets were auctioned, including the famous "Twitty City" in Hendersonville, where his and his children's residences were located. His children, who wished to continue residing, there, were forced to leave and to compete in the public auction for Twitty's personal items.

Conway Twitty's will provides a cautionary tale when it comes to estate planning mistakes.

Here are three things he could have done to correct them:

Create a Revocable Living Trust. Twitty was a public figure who valued his privacy. Yet by creating a will instead of a revocable living trust, he let the world in on his private life. We all know who he wished to inherit and the total size of his estate. A will submitted for probate is public record, so every detail is available to anyone interested enough to look it up. A revocable living trust would have allowed him to keep his private wishes private.

Update Your Plan. Twitty created his will before he married his third wife (ultimately his widow) and never updated it, so her interest was not mentioned or provided for in the will. Spouses are provided for by Tennessee law, but Twitty lost out on the opportunity to specifically address her interests versus his children's interests.

Use tax-saving strategies in your estate plan. Since Twitty was married, there was likely be a monster-sized estate tax bill to pay, both state and federal. The use of other tax-advantaged estate planning strategies would have preserved assets and resulted in more money to Twitty's family and less to the US Government.

Don't needlessly burden your family. It is important that marriage partners, particularly those in blended families, talk about what they want to happen with their assets when they die. Working with a lawyer specifically trained in counseling blended families will help the couple clarify and document their goals so there is not a fight between the survivor's children and the survivor of the partnership after the death of the first to die.

To help decide which option is best suited for your particular situation, consult with us. We can put an estate plan in place that includes adequate funding to ensure your wishes are carried out.

This article is a service of Amy Clemmons Brown, an attorney licensed in Arkansas. We don't just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That's why we offer a Family Wealth Planning SessionTM, during which you will get more financially organized than you've ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.