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Estate planning lessons from Lucas-Disney deal

In a recent business move that shook the galaxy, Star Wars creator George Lucas sold his company, LucasFilm, to Disney for $4.05 billion in cash and stock. Experts say that by making this move now, Lucas, aged 68, has saved his family the difficulty of dealing with his empire after his death. Lucas' interest in philanthropy may also have played into the deal, as having the company off his plate may enable him to focus more on this aspect of his life and wealth. This foresight in estate planning is a great example of how to manage an estate sooner rather than later and getting the most out of it for everyone involved.

Lucas and his wife have three adopted children, and none of them have announced plans to take over the company. By selling the company now, financial experts say, Lucas saved these heirs the struggle to manage an incredibly large inheritance. The division of such a vast estate could be divisive to a family, regardless of their care for one another. Lucas seems to have put that idea at the forefront of his mind in making this deal. Lucas also took advantage of the current tax system by making the deal sooner rather than later: long-term capital gains tax rates are set to increase in January.

Estate planning and business mergers or sales like this one may not necessarily go hand-in-hand for most people who aren't media moguls, but there are still lessons to be garnered from this deal. Lucas put his family's well-being ahead of his fortune, focusing on keeping them together rather than risking the difficulties of dividing his estate or having to choose beneficiaries to gain from it.

Experienced financial planners and estate planning attorneys know how contentious large and small estates can become among families. Working out a will ahead of time can prevent some of this family drama and ensure that all assets are well-protected and will be properly distributed.

Source: MarketWatch, "George Lucas's Jedi estate planning," Quentin Fottrell, Nov. 1, 2012

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