Estate Planning: Learn From Celebrity Errors

Dennis Hopper's widow Victoria Duffy (pictured left) is in a heated estate battle with her adult stepchildren that is an extension of the legal wranglings that started when Hopper filed for divorce in January -- a divorce that wasn't final by the time the 74-year-old actor's death in May from complications of prostate cancer, as discussed in HousingWatch's "Dennis Hopper Heirs Sell to Give Widow Hell."

Unresolved divorces can spill over into a fight among heirs, says legacy attorney Andrew Mayoras, co-author with his wife, Danielle, of "Trial & Heirs: Famous Fortune Fights!"(Wise Circle Books), which uses celebrity inheritance catastrophes and courtroom clashes over estate contests as a way to give advice to families.

Had Hopper acted more quickly, estate issues would already be clear to his heirs. They are fighting over whether or not Duffy gets to remain living in one of the four houses on his 15,500-square-foot Venice, Calif. property, as well as who gets what percentage of the estate, ownership of artwork, insurance payouts, and a monthly stipend for expenses for the family horse, among other issues.

But such issues are not limited to millionaires. "It all depends on the will, trust and how the various assets and investments are held," says Mayoras. Below are some tips from the Mayorases, to help keep this from happening to you or your loved ones who are in multiple-marriage families.