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Lessons to be learned from Stan Lee's estate issues

Stan Lee, the man behind many of the superheroes that entertain both kids and adults in California and around the world, passed away in November, 2018 at the age of 95. But the end of Lee's life has led to an entirely new saga involving the comic book writer, editor, and publisher's estate. Hints of possible issues came even before Lee's death. In early 2018, he signed a declaration expressing his concerns about his daughter's spending habits. In the document, Lee also talks about three men with "bad intentions" whom he believed were influencing his daughter.

The specific estate administration and probate details involving Lee aren't yet fully known. However, it's believed that the co-creator of Spider-Man had an estate worth anywhere from $50-70 million. As for the declaration, Lee subsequently changed his mind about what he had stated and fired his attorney. His daughter and one her male companions then fired Lee's accountant and made changes with his household staff and legal counsel.

Since Lee's passing, several conflicting tales have emerged, including ones alleging elder abuse. Issues with Lee's estate could be further complicated by the fact that multiple legal representatives have had a hand in managing his affairs over the years. Furthermore, various business associates, caregivers, and family members also supposedly attempted to manipulate Lee when he was alive in an attempt to gain control of some of his assets. While Lee did set up a trust for his daughter, it's unclear if he had prepared a will or set up other trusts.

When estate planning involves older individuals with significant assets, a lawyer may suggest consolidating assets into one or two accounts to make things easier to manage. If protection against elder abuse or manipulation is a concern, an attorney may recommend setting up a standby revocable disability trust, which allows a successor trustee to be named. This person would be able to take over asset management in the event of incompetence or incapacity. If there is concern about the actions of trustees, as appears to be the case with Lee's daughter, a lawyer might suggest naming a trust protector, who would have the ability to change trustees.

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