On June 19, 2016, when successful actor Anton Yelchin (Chekov in the recent Star Trek movies) failed to show for rehearsal, his friends became worried and drove to his house. Sadly, they found Yelchin pinned between his security fence, brick mailbox, and Jeep Grand Cherokee.
According to investigators, the 27-year-old star exited the vehicle before it allegedly rolled backwards down his steep driveway, pinning, and ultimately killing the Star Trek actor. Los Angeles County Coroner Assistant Chief Ed Winter stated the cause of death as “accidental blunt traumatic asphyxia.” Two days later, Fiat Chrysler released a statement informing the public of an investigation to determine whether a gear shift defect could have been to blame for the accident.
In June 2016, the manufacturer reported that this defect could be responsible for as many as 266 auto accidents. Back in April 2016, the manufacturer issued a recall for nearly 500,000 2014 and 2015 Grand Cherokees as well as other models due to an allegedly dangerous design error in the electronic shifters. Until Yelchin, no deaths had been linked to the issue.
Following Yelchin’s death, several Jeep owners took steps to file a class action lawsuit against Fiat Chrysler, alleging that the drivers suffered economic losses in the aftermath of the tragic accident. According to the lawsuit, plaintiffs claim that Fiat Chrysler knew about the shifting device’s possible defect for at least two years but hid this knowledge from the public, a decision that allegedly resulted in dozens of reported injuries and, possibly, Yelchin’s death.
When you’re in your 20’s and 30’s and in good health, it’s easy to feel invincible and to justify deferring estate planning. Why worry about a long-term financial strategy and your “legacy” if you’re just getting a toehold in your industry?
Yelchin’s tragic situation highlights the fact that we are all – young and healthy, old and infirm alike – vulnerable to events outside our control. Establishing even a rudimentary plan is better than having nothing.
Details have yet to emerge about whether the actor had estate planning documents in place. However, actors who suddenly vault to success via high profile movie and TV roles as well as business owners who experience dramatic surges in income should reevaluate their plans frequently, especially during and after periods of major career growth and contraction.
Depending on the nature of your income surge, you might need focused, specialized planning to minimize tax consequences. Likewise, when your life or business goes through big inflection points, it can help to rethink your long term financial strategy just as a way to clean up the “open loops” in your life – to eliminate background distraction, so you can concentrate more on what’s important and what you love to do.
Failing to establish, amend, or revise a trust or will as your life changes can create needless risks. While no lawsuits appear to have been filed yet by Yelchin’s heirs, a properly drafted, up-to-date estate plan can make it easier for a family to hold those responsible for the death of a loved one accountable. In addition, the clarity created by such a plan helps keep family members concentrated on meaningful and important work, such as consoling children left behind and supporting one another emotionally, rather than potentially distracting legal issues.
While drafting a trust or a will does require skill and thoughtfulness, an experienced estate planning lawyer can take the emotional charge out of this process, simplify it greatly for you, and ensure an enduring legacy for the next generation. If you want to get started, we can help.