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By Liza Horvath


Lessons Learned in 2014


It is said that you know a mediation hearing was successful if everyone left the table equally disappointed. 2014 will soon be a memory but, on reflection, the year provided many lessons that should help us move into 2015 with better knowledge, improved estate planning skills and a deeper understanding of human nature.  


Mediation is a process by which a mediator, usually a retired judge, attorney or other trained professional, seeks to generate amicable resolutions by parties that are involved in disputes and which disputes could otherwise devolve into full-blown court battles. Mediation is becoming more popular – even among seasoned litigation attorneys who seem more interested in getting to a settlement rather than pursuing expensive and lengthy court trials. 2014 saw a local family that had been embroiled in lawsuits and family discourse for almost a decade come to a settlement after a13-hour mediation. Years of legal fees, court filings and intra-family fighting is over and maybe now they can begin to heal. Another estate dispute was settled by mediation in record time – this one involving a great deal of money, a few family members and numerous charities. To the credit of the attorneys involved along with reasonableness on the part of the family and the charities, a court trial and its accompanying costs, was avoided. Mediation should be in every professional’s tool kit.


Many teachable moments occurred this year as we said goodbye to Robin Williams, Joan Rivers, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Mickey Rooney and Casey Kasem. Maybe the most shocking thing to come to light in these deaths is how many of them had really bad – if any at all – estate planning. Joan Rivers was probably the star who died with the best-managed finances. We know little of the actual value of her estate and how it will pass because she used trusts and business entities to hold her estimated $300 million to $1 billion. Hoffman’s death provided a great example of how to pass on values but his will fell painfully short in tax planning. His will states that funds are to be used to make sure his children experience art and culture but in leaving $34 million to a long-time girlfriend, about half will be lost to estate taxes. Finally, after nine decades in the business and 300 films, Rooney died with nothing. Whether you loved them or hated them, these stars shared their lives with us and now, in death, share lessons about what to do and what not to do in financial planning and management arena.


The proverb of “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves” in three generations continues to play out but more parents are becoming aware of the need to provide strong financial educations to their children if they expect them to not only survive, but thrive, after they are gone. Additionally, more planners are working with clients to help them develop a family “mission statement” and to provide children with the skills needed to manage, protect and grow finances.


North Korea may not be interested in my confidential emails but the Sony hack underscores the need for all of us who handle sensitive client data to revisit our security and email retention practices.

Liza Horvath has over 30 years experience in the estate planning and trust fields and is the president of Monterey Trust Management, a financial and trust management company. This is not intended to be legal or tax advice. If you have a questions call (831)646-5262 or email liza@montereytrust.com










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