An estate planning lesson…from a dancing TV show?

The 10th season of Dancing With The Stars is in full swing now on ABC.  There’s even more excitement than usual around the Kabbe household because our local Olympic hero Evan Lysacek is competing!  And, yes, I do mean the whole household.  Even my husband (and law partner), Jeff, watches!

Saying that Evan is local is an understatement.  He is not only from Naperville, but he is from our neighborhood.  He went to the same elementary school and middle school as our children now attend (and he went to the high school our children will go to, but I am really trying not to think about high school yet).

Last week we began wondering how much the stars got paid to appear on the show.  I had heard rumors that some of the stars (such as this season’s Pamela Anderson) went on the show primarily to make money.  So the obvious question was, “how much?”

Well, it wasn’t even ten minutes later and Jeff had found the answer.  During Season 8, the stars earned $125,000 just for appearing on the show.  The stars could also earn up to $240,000 more by making it to the finals.  And what about winning the whole competition?  The only reward for that appears to be the mirrored ball trophy.

How do we know all of these details?  Usually reality TV shows include a pretty tight non-disclosure agreement forbidding the participants from talking about the show and their contract.  That’s why we don’t hear much about how shows like Survivor and The Bachelor are actually produced.

But Season 8 on Dancing With The Stars was different because Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson was one of the stars.  What made Shawn different from previous competitors is that she was a minor (she was 17 when she competed, having just turned 18 in January).

Shawn’s contract with Dancing With The Stars had to be approved by a judge because minors don’t have the same ability to enter into contracts as adults.  And the second that contract was filed with the court, it became a public record.

It’s the same deal with probate.  Far from avoiding probate, having a will actually guarantees probate (with the exception of some estates under $100,000).  Your will and a complete accounting of your assets will become part of the public record.

Now, it’s unlikely that reporters from TMZ are going to be digging through your court records after you pass away like they have done with Michael Jackson’s estate.  But you may have your own reasons for wanting to keep your family, friends, and neighbors from learning the details of your assets and what gifts you made.

That’s just one of the reasons why more and more people are turning to living trusts for their estate plans:  trusts are private.

If you have only a will, I encourage you to investigate the benefits offered by a living trust.

In the meantime, don’t forget to vote for Evan on Dancing With The Stars!

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