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When fashion designer Kate Spade and chef/TV star Anthony Bourdain died last year, they had more in common than the headlines revealed, and those common traits offer a cautionary tale about the importance of a current estate plan.

At the time of their deaths, both Spade and Bourdain were separated from their respective spouses. Forbes even reported that Bourdain's split was a permanent separation.

However, without a final judgment of divorce, each celebrity left the surviving spouse as his/her primary heir. That means that the estranged spouse had legal authority to make all of the funeral arrangements, including whether the deceased was cremated and where his/her final remains were placed.

And the surviving spouse's rights don't stop there. The widowed partner could be eligible to collect Social Security benefits, would inherit any assets that were owned jointly, and could be the beneficiary on life insurance policies and retirement accounts.

Most importantly, in the case of these celebrities, the estranged spouse will be the owner of the decedent's body of work, such as the continuing royalties from books and TV shows. By not preparing or updating their estate plan, these celebrities may have left the licensing of their images and products to their least favorite person.

If you are new to estate planning and not sure where to start, contact us today for a free consultation.

 3D illustration for this blog was provided by Quince Media