Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

The formerly popular television game show asked the question:  Who wants to be a millionaire?  When estate planning is lacking, individuals may inherit in a fashion that feels like they just won the game.  While this makes for great television it rarely makes for happy endings and it is certainly never good planning.I was reading an article today entitled Millions in Gold Found in Home of Deceased Hermit.  The story was about a gentleman in Carson City, Nevada, Walter Samaszko, Jr., who passed away at his home in June.  He lived alone and his body was found about a month after he died by a neighbor.  When the home was subsequently put up for sale, the realtor, who was a friend of this same neighbor invited him over to look at Samaszko’s possessions.  Thinking they had found a cache of ammunition, the neighbor and the realtor in fact stumbled upon at least $7 million in gold coins as well as cash and other assets nearing $200,000.  The value may be far in excess of that if the coins are collector’s items.  Samaszko died without a will and apparently had no children.  The Carson City Clerk has located a first cousin who may be the sole heir to the entire estate.This story presents a case study on the benefits of planning and the perils of failing to do so.  First, the estate exceeds the present estate tax exemption, and so 35% of the estate in excess of the exemption will go to the government. The allegedly anti-government Samaszko may have avoided any estate tax and provided a great benefit to a worthy charity had he engaged in proper planning.  Second, but for the honesty of these men, the gold coins may have gone to the realtor and the neighbor and no one would have known the difference.  When you have untitled personal property, such as gold coins, it is particularly important to ensure that your plan acknowledges the existence of the assets and how they will be distributed.  Third, the beneficiary that may inherit is the one the government decided would inherit - regardless of Samaszko’s wishes, whether she is capable of handling such an inheritance outright, or her personal circumstances.  So often a windfall of this kind is gone with the wind just as quickly as it came.Unfortunately, stories of this kind, while maybe not as extreme are not uncommon.  Good planning can avoid negative results and make sure that your wishes – not those of the government – are honored.