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122: The Costly Truth of Ignoring Estate Planning Like Jay Leno

You may have heard the recent news that Jay Leno filed a conservatorship over his wife, Mavis Leno’s estate. The couple does not have an estate plan, and his goal is to gain special permission from the court to set up a plan for both of them. As Kirsten and Madison point out, the main issue is not what happens if Mavis dies but instead if Jay were to die first. Given that Mavis is already incapacitated, who will manage their assets and decision-making? We hope you will join us for this discussion that underscores just how important it is to have an estate plan in place to avoid the costly and very public conservatorship court proceedings, among other protections.

Time-stamped Show Notes:

0:00 Introduction

0:53 To kick things off, Madison is shedding light on conservatorship and how it applies to the Jay Leno court proceedings.

1:57 Jay and his wife Mavis have been married for a long time and don’t have any children. He is her heir if she were to die first, so why is he worried about an estate plan now?

3:36 This isn’t the typical way to go about estate planning, and it certainly isn’t ideal. Listen in a Madison discusses some of the issues with the approach Jay Leno is taking.

7:57 The bottom line here is to get your estate planning done! Good and done is better than perfect!


Over the weekend, we heard that Jay Leno has filed a petition for conservatorship over his wife, Mavis Leno’s, estate. Madison, where’d we hear about that?

I’m pretty sure it was Facebook, TMZ broke that.

Okay, so when I say we heard, I mean Madison heard, and she told me about it. I do not normally get information from Facebook, but it’s a conservatorship proceeding, which we don’t normally do. However, the case really is about estate planning. And so we wanted to talk about it this morning. I’m Kirsten Howe. This is Madison Gunn, and you are watching and listening to Absolute Trust Talk. Madison, tell us the particulars of this case, and more about what conservatorship really means.

Yeah. So conservatorship is if somebody doesn’t have any documents in case they’re incapacitated. A family member or close loved one can file to ask the court’s permission so that they can either manage finances or medical care for somebody who’s incapacitated. In this instance, Jay Leno and his wife, Mavis, did not have an estate plan. She has dementia, is incapacitated, and is asking the court for a conservatorship. However, it’s not to manage her finances or medical care because he’s already doing that without any issues. But he’s asking the court for special permission to set up an estate plan for both of them.

Okay, so, if he’s appointed conservator, he will be able to ask the judge to allow him to write an estate plan, actually, for both of them. But the issue is, can he write an estate plan for her because usually, you’re the only person who can write your own estate plan? Okay, so why? Now, my understanding is they’ve been married for a long time, as you said. We know they don’t have children. If she were to pass away, he would inherit everything. If they don’t have an estate plan. If she has no will, no trust, he is her heir. So why is he so concerned about this?

Yeah, the bigger issue is not what happens if she dies. It’s what happens if he dies first. So you know, that’s fine. I’m sure he would like everything to go to her. Yeah, so with everything to go to her, the problem is, who’s going to manage it? She’s already incapacitated; I’m sure they would like to choose who’s going to manage the finances; he would like to choose to manage the finances for either of them on incapacity rather than having anybody be able to step forward. And subfile a subsequent conservatorship over her to manage her finances. He’s managing their joint assets. If he dies, first, they all become hers. A conservatorship would be required. So that’s the bigger concern. And he’s, you know, he’s gotten into car accidents in his lifetime, you know, he loves cars. So there’s a distinct possibility that that could happen.

Right? Just people with dementia, first of all, can live a long time. That’s not necessarily a death sentence, and there’s no guarantee that he’s going to outlive her. And even if he does outlive her, what if he loses capacity? Then they’re both in a pickle. So he’s doing this to protect her from outsiders who might not be as loving. Okay, so this is not how we normally plan estate. It certainly isn’t ideal. Madison, what do you see as some of the problems with this approach to estate planning?

Right. So one of the things we always espouse usually is that crisis planning is way more expensive than preventative estate planning. So in this case, he’s filing for conservatorship, then there’s another step to get a plan written, then he has to get that approved by the judge. So it’s three or four filings, which is three or four times the cost. Plus, conservatorships are typically wildly more expensive than even just a probate over time. So it’s a much bigger undertaking than if they had just had an estate plan. Yeah, and, you know, there’s more court process more attorneys involved? Yeah. And it takes a lot longer. Yeah. Another thing that I see is the lack of privacy. You know, you told me about this. And I said, Okay, let’s read the petition. And you immediately went and found it on the court’s website that’s not private. So we read the petition, which doesn’t have a whole lot of information in it, but there are other documents.

Yeah. Anytime you file for conservatorship, you have to get what’s called a capacity declaration. This could have been brought to a doctor. The doctor would have had to fill out a form, and they have to file that with the court, not confidential. There are other confidential documents that get filed. In conservatorship, the capacity declaration is not one of them. So, I could have downloaded that and read the nitty-gritty details of her dementia. You know, I chose not to because it’s not relevant or what we’re talking about. But you know, those Doc’s people don’t want that out there. I’m sure if it was Jay Leno, incapacitated, I’m sure they would print that. I’m sure they would have a blog for that. Sure.

Yeah, you gotta believe that that would happen. Okay, and so the other thing, you know, the lack of privacy is also an issue when it comes to the estate plan. So typically, the clients come to us, we plan it out together, and nobody sees it or knows about it until after somebody passes away. It’s it’s done privately. Yeah, this estate plan is going to be submitted to the court for the judge’s review for the other attorneys involved in the case to review. And possibly that’s going to be on the website, as well. So, you know, here’s Jay Leno putting his estate plan into the public domain. And that’s not what most people would want,


No, I mean, I think it’s, it opens it up for people to come out of the woodwork and say, you know, made this promise me something, or, you know, I’m her best friend in the whole wide world, and I should get some money, you know, but I haven’t talked to her in 50 years, you know, it just all the crazy things that you see in estate planning that could pop up, you know, now there’s a public chance for that to arise. Whereas with a trust based estate plan, nothing typically gets recorded. There’s nothing that gets filed. You know, and we’ve talked about this before, you know, with other celebrities situations where like, why did the probate arise out of that? You know, like, let’s keep that private. Yeah.

And, and not just the lack of privacy, but the possibility that other people will comment and say, Well, I think it should be like this. Yeah. But it should be allowed to say how your estate plan should be except you. But they have to open it up to other people that come forward. Possibly people who don’t have their best interests at heart. Right. I guess the last thing that maybe bothers me about this also is that we don’t really know, you know, he has to write an estate plan for her based on what he thinks she would want. That might not be what, really, she would have wanted. I’m sure he’ll do his best.

Yeah, there’s always there’s always the possibility that she hasn’t communicated something to him at some point during their marriage that she felt strongly about, you know, wanting to include a charity or a person or what have you, you know, jewelry to her best friend, you know, something of that nature that he just didn’t know. Yeah, so that’s not ideal. Okay, so the bottom line here, the bottom line message here, Madison, what would you say?

Just to get that update plan done. And we’ve encourage this of our clients, but in general, even if you don’t know all the details, you can still get it done. And then updates make updates later. So if you’re like, I want to, you know, provide for my children and avoid probate, conservatorship, that’s great. If you’re like, I’m on the fence about including my grandchildren or a charity. Let’s just get started and get it done. And then you can make that change later. You can always change your state plan until you lose capacity. And then this happens. So you know that doesn’t mean they’re going to make change just because you’re incapacitated. That’s not difficult. But you at least want to have something in place.

Yeah, the good and done is better than perfect in your head.

It’s fluid; things change, and we totally get that. But there were basic documents that could have been placed that would have avoided this conservatorship altogether.

Yeah, exactly. Okay, a very unfortunate but interesting situation. Thank you, Madison. And thank you all for joining us. I hope you learned some valuable lessons. And also we’re a little bit entertained. We look forward to connecting with you next time.

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