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What to Do When a Spouse Suddenly Dies … Lessons from the Death of Sheryl Sandberg’s Husband, Dave Goldberg

Ali Katz


The shock over the death of 47-year-old SurveyMonkey CEO Dave Goldberg, husband of Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and the father of two small children, continues to resonate for many reasons.  First, he was so young, how could this happen?  Second, they are so rich, how could this happen?

Money, youth and success are no deterrents to tragedy.  Reportedly, Goldberg died while doing an activity we all hope extends life -- exercising.  According to the New York Times, while Goldberg was on vacation in Mexico with family and friends, he fell off a treadmill and died of head trauma.

Sheryl Sandberg is reported to be worth $1 billion herself, so her family will not face the same financial challenges as others who experience similar tragedies, yet there are still important estate planning considerations Sheryl must face now regardless of her wealth.

And these estate planning considerations are lessons for all of us who have children and/or other family we care about, whether we have $1, $100,000, $1 million or $1 billion.

First and foremost is the children.

Sheryl is now a single mom.  She has spoken often about how much she relies on her husband and now that he is no longer there, she’ll need to identify others to support her in raising the kids.

On top of that, Sheryl will absolutely need to make sure she has named legal guardians for her kids, in case anything happens to her. And, naming guardians in a Will is not going to be enough.

Sheryl needs to have a comprehensive Kids Protection Plan(r ) - naming both short and long-term guardians and giving clear instrutions to the people named + all of her caregivers -- created to ensure that if anything happens to her, her kids are never taken into the care of protective services, even for a minute.

Once Sheryl’s got a Kids Protection Plan in place, she will need to think about proate and estate tax issues and how she can ensure that her family stays out of Court and how she can keep as much as possible with her family with as little as possible going to the government upon her death.

First is the Court issue.  Anyone who dies with assets in their name leave a big mess behind for their loved one’s to clean up.  And Sheryl would be leaving behind a lot.

She can ensure her family stays out of Court (and in the privacy of their own lawyers office) by putting everything she owns into Trusts.  And, ideally, those trusts would have lifetime asset protection provisions built in for her children so they can receive their inheritance fully protected from lawsuits, divorce, creditors and predators.

That’s something you likely need to consider for your family as well, as probate affects not just millionaires, but everyday regular people. And it’ll hit your family even harder.

Last, now that her husband has passed, Sheryl can only pass $5.35 million of assets free of estate taxes and the rest will be subject to tax at as much as 40%.  That’s a huge payoff to the government and so it would be worthwhile for Sheryl to look at how she can plan now to keep more in the hands of her loved ones.

Regardless of how much you have in the bank, you don’t want to leave your family with a big mess behind.   There is no need to compound a tragedy by not planning well for the people you love.  We can help you protect and provide financial security for your loved ones with a Family Wealth Planning Session, where we can identify the best strategies for you and your family.