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Greatness lives on: Three lessons in estate planning from Ali

A legend both in and out of the boxing ring, Muhammad Ali leaves behind a legacy in more ways than one. In addition to his professional triumphs, fans can also learn from his personal aspirations by taking note of how his estate unfolds in the months ahead.

What's unique about Muhammad Ali's estate?

Muhammad Ali's estate is one full of potential legal riddles. In addition to what is likely a very large net worth, he left behind three ex-wives, one current wife and nine children that he acknowledged as his own.

It appears, based on a story published by The Guardian, that he left his current wife as the executor of his estate.

Just how much was Ali worth?

Although the exact value of Ali's estate has not been released, it is sure to be substantial. Muhammad had some impressive payouts during his career. These payouts include a reported $5 million win for the famous "Rumble in the Jungle" with George Forman and $8 million for his fight with Larry Holmes in Vegas in 1980.

Even after he left the ring, endorsements and licensing deals continued to provide the boxing great with ample funds. These funds will likely continue even after his death.

What can I learn about estate planning from Ali?

Ali's estate provides a couple of key lessons for everyone, regardless of their estate's value, including:

  • The power of family. It is not uncommon for the beneficiaries of an estate to be composed of close family members. If no estate plan is present, state law determines who gets what. This often breaks down to a distribution involving a spouse, children, parents and extended family members.
  • The power of a will. A will is a legal tool that can trump state laws and guide how assets are distributed. This document can be used to outline exactly how the creator would like his or her assets distributed.
  • The power of an executor. An executor is the person that is designated with the power to carry out the terms of the will. This person is responsible for paying off debts of the estate and distributing assets in line with the owner's wishes. This position is generally held to a fiduciary duty to operate in good faith, aiming to make sure distributions are in line with the creator's intentions.

Although estate plans should be tailored to meet each individual's needs and wishes, these three tips ring true for almost every plan.

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