Sticky NotesSticky notes are not the best way to create an estate plan. Most people, of course, go see an attorney and create documents to make sure their wishes are fulfilled. Last week, we received more information on the continuing saga of Tony Hsieh’s estate. According to the article, thousands of sticky notes were found around his mansion. These supposedly represent financial commitments he made to employees, friends, and local businesses. Before his death, his cousin was granted power of attorney over his affairs. And a Las Vegas judge has appointed his father and brother to be the special administrators of his estate. The sticky notes estate plan may become the next “hot trend” in tech (I doubt it), but the story highlights the need for a properly created estate plan. You don’t need to be worth more than $500 million to have one created. And as we watch this play out, I’m sure we’ll see more problems with Hsieh’s estate.

Sticky Notes

Hsieh apparently left behind thousands of sticky notes on his walls. They supposedly represent financial commitments to employees friends and businesses. Presumably, he wasn’t actually using these as a formal estate plan, but more of a reminder system. Maybe it was his way or organizing things. But now, he’s left the administrators of his estate with a lot of work to do to figure out his system. Also, the legal fights could last for years as various people attempt to “enforce” what’s on those little pieces of paper.

If you are a visual person, I guess you could use sticky notes as a way to create a visual representation of what you want your estate plan to look like. You could theoretically put together a system of color-coded sticky notes where each color goes to a different person. As a formal tool? Using sticky notes as the legally binding version of your estate plan is probably a bad idea. It is very impractical anyway because it’s very easy to take the sticky note off of one item and move it to another (or just throw away the sticky note).

Obviously, creative people have different ways to visualize things. So, if you wanted to use these to create a vision board or other visual representation of what your estate would look like? Grab a few packs and get to work. But be sure to formalize and properly execute your estate plan after you have confirmed your vision.

Real Estate

The division of Hsieh’s real estate can also end up being complicated. According to the article, Hsieh’s real estate included,

  • $70 million in Park City and surrounding areas
  • Other property in Las Vegas

Hsieh’s family members are left to sort out real estate in two different states. If he simply owned them in his name, it would be a bit more straightforward. However, the article points out that much of the real estate is owned by about a dozen LLC’s. So, now the real estate question must also be intertwined with the corporate laws of the states where the LLC’s are located. And if he was using sticky notes to do some planning, what do those corporate agreements look like?

In a well-designed estate plan, the real estate you own is accounted for and has a plan for distribution. Some states even allow you to use a Transfer on Death Deed, where the property automatically transfers to someone upon your death. It is not part of your probate estate for the Court to review. This is one of the clearest estate planning tools that my clients like to take advantage of when they can.

Sound Mind

One of the overarching issues that weaves its way through all this is whether Hsieh was of sound mind when he made certain decisions. With a formal, signed will and estate plan, this issue is a lot less common. The witnesses to the will normally would not sign if the person was out of their mind. But in the case of Hsieh, even after sorting out all these different possible commitments for his estate, there is also a question of whether he was of sound mind. It has come to light after his death that he was struggling with addiction. He was a heavy user of nitrous oxide and other drugs and alcohol. I’m not sure how a Court would be able to sort out what his wishes were and whether he was sober or under the influence of something when he made certain decisions.

Tony Hsieh has left behind a sad legacy. Whether it is the struggles with abuse or the enormous task he has left for his family to administer his estate, it’s a vibrant lesson in the importance of having a proper estate plan in place, even if you aren’t worth more than $500 million…

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Next Steps

Hopefully, after reading about the mess Hsieh left for his family, you know that you need a will. If you don’t have a will yet, or if you have one that you may need to update, call my office to set up a Legal Strategy Session and we can review the best options for you – (877) AMAYERS.

Andrew Ayers
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I work with business and estate planning clients to craft legal solutions to protect their legacies.
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