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If you haven’t heard of Tony Hsieh, you have likely heard of his business ventures. In 1996, at age 23, Hsieh founded LinkExchange (originally named Internet Link Exchange or ILE) alongside Sanjay Madan and later Ali Partovi. A popular internet advertising cooperative, the company pioneered those webpage banner ads that used to be all over the web in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
In 1998 LinkExchange was purchased by Microsoft for $265 million and in 1999 Hsieh invested in and was later hired as the CEO of online shoe retailer Zappos. In 2000 the company recorded $1.6 million in sales; under Hsieh’s guidance, this grew to $1 billion by 2009. That same year, Amazon purchased Zappos for a reported $1.2 billion of which $214 million went directly to Hsieh.
Hsieh’s success is often credited as a combination of extraordinary business acumen and unwavering kindness. Zappos was a pioneer of online retail, introducing many of the policies that have built consumer confidence in the industry. The company was often listed by Fortune as one of the best places to work thanks not only to high salaries but to the pleasant experience offered to employees and customers alike.
On August 24, 2020, Hsieh retired as CEO of Zappos and on November 18 he was fatally injured in a New London, Connecticut housefire and died days later, on November 27.
The layers of tragedy in Hsieh’s passing are numerous. Celebrated as a beacon of light and happiness while living, it is heartbreaking to think that he sustained fatal injuries while trapped alone in the burning home’s pool house. Further, his death coincided with (and may have been linked to) a spiraling period of substance abuse and mental health struggles. Finally, the visionary entrepreneur’s passing continues to be marred by greedy infighting prompted by his failure to leave a Will indicating how best to distribute his assets.
This sad situation has left friends and family arguing over Hsieh’s estimated $500 million estate, with many insisting they are owed millions in cash and contracts.
These claims arrive, in part, thanks to thousands of sticky notes plastered around Hsieh’s home in which he details everything from life advice to financial deals. Many of these sticky notes have been filed in court and the future of the hundreds of millions that hang in the balance remains far from certain.
Why Hsieh’s Tragic Story Matters to You
You would think it goes without saying that sticky notes are no replacement for a robust estate plan and yet millions of US adults rely on equivalently unreliable methods to communicate their final wishes. Less than half of Americans have an estate plan which means their loved ones have nothing but snippets of conversation to guide them should unexpected tragedy strike.
When a person dies intestate or without a will, their estate is settled in probate court based on their state’s intestacy laws. These laws rarely reflect an individual’s final wishes and so loved ones often end up feeling unjustly treated. Legal challenges result and families are torn apart in the process.
You need not have a Hsieh-sized fortune for this to happen to you. Priceless sentimental items and modest financial assets are enough to leave lifelong scars on those you care about most.
All of this can be easily avoided with a simple secure estate plan and so if you are among the majority of adults who have neglected this essential task, today is the day to start.
Contact the Estate Planning Attorneys at the Law Firm of Christopher W. Dumm