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Stan Lee's estate invites controversy, lessons for others

Stan Lee, who was a real-life superhero to many comic book fans, passed away this year at 95 years of age after a prolonged illness. Unfortunately, his last few years were troubled as claims of financial malfeasance, familial abuse and missing money surfaced. Even after his death, it's still unclear what estate plans he had made.

If there are no estate plans, Lee won't be the first major celebrity to forgo them. Music legends Aretha Franklin and Prince, for example, also died without leaving wills -- or even clear heirs -- to control their fortunes and their legacies. You don't have to have a fortune, however, to take some lessons for the future from their situations regarding your own estate plans.

First, start your estate planning process now. Don't delay. If you haven't already started, it's time. No matter your age or health, everyone should have a few basic documents in place, like a power of attorney for health care and a will.

Second, when you're talking to your estate planning attorney, here are questions you should consider asking:

1. How can you protect my assets against malfeasance and abuses?

2. Can you help me pick someone to assist with my affairs if I start to decline mentally?

3. When should we involve that person in the estate plans?

4. What can you do to ensure that I am not taken advantage of by others as I age?

5. If you suspect that I am no longer able to competently direct my own affairs, what will you do?

6. What happens if I get into a dispute with the person I choose to help me?

7. What happens if my family members object to my estate plans?

As you age, you may find that your financial affairs become increasingly complex, particularly if you have a lot of business contracts, intellectual property rights and other assets. The best way to protect your estate -- and yourself -- is to regularly review your plans and make updates as necessary over the years.

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