The following article appeared in Gulf Coast Woman Magazine
No one likes to think about death, but it is amazing how many people, including stars with millions of dollars in assets, die without any estate plan to determine what will happen to their estate or who will get their assets after their death. Every person, no matter how old, should have at least a basic legal document called a last will and testament to state how his or her estate should be handled after death. An AARP survey found that 2 out of 5 Americans over 45 haven’t addressed this very fundamental part of estate planning. Here are some examples from the stars to show why no one should neglect to prepare a will.
Amazingly, Prince, who died on April 21, 2016, in his Paisley Park compound in Minnesota, did not have an estate plan — not even a basic last will and testament. Therefore, it was necessary to start a court proceeding to handle his “intestate” estate, meaning without a last will and testament under Minnesota state law. Multiple people who claimed to be his unknown spouse, children or siblings filed claims hoping to receive a part of his estimated $200 million estate. The judge, however, rejected several of these heirship claims, and the “denied” parties have filed appeals that take time to resolve. That means that because no legal documents stated how the estate should be distributed after his death, the legal process now has incurred delays, and his heirs have waited over two years since Prince’s death without receiving one penny from his estate. Such delays could have been avoided if he had prepared even a basic last will and testament.
Another problem an estate may have without a last will and testament is conflict between heirs or parties with legitimate claims to the estate. Like Prince, Aretha Franklin did not have a last will and testament in place when she died on Aug. 16, 2018. Therefore, an intestate estate proceeding was started in Michigan. Franklin’s four sons have filed documents as interested parties to her estate, while her niece, Sabrina Owens, has asked Michigan’s Oakland County Probate Court to appoint her as the personal representative of the estate. It is too early to determine what conflicts may arise in Franklin’s estate; however, in the 1970s, the fight over Jimi Hendrix’s intestate estate allegedly lasted more than 30 years.
ASSETS MAY NOT GO WHERE YOU WANT
Perhaps the biggest reason to prepare a last will and testament is so your assets will go where you want them to go after your death. With a last will and testament, you can direct who will handle your estate and who will get the assets. If you want your assets to go to a charity or to someone who is not your next of kin, you can handle that situation with a last will and testament. The intestacy laws of each state specify how the assets will be distributed without a will, and typically, there is a preference for the blood relatives or next of kin to receive the assets. So if you desire a different result, such as a stepchild, charity or friend receiving any of your assets, you should prepare a will.
Amy Winehouse died without a last will and testament, and her father, Mitch Winehouse, was appointed the administrator of her estate, and her parents inherited her fortune according to the state laws. There was, however, a documentary released before her death that publicized her contentious relationship with her father. One could speculate Winehouse may not have wanted this outcome. Without a will, however, the law will state how the assets will be distributed, regardless of any evidence indicating that the deceased would have wanted a different distribution.
The assets belong to you, so prepare a last will and testament so you can direct who will receive your assets after your death with a minimum of delays and conflicts.
Kathy Brown van Zutphen is an attorney licensed to practice law in Alabama and Mississippi. She focuses on the “elder law” areas of trusts, estates, and conservatorships. Additionally, she litigates lawsuits and represents small business owners as part of her legal practice. You can also reach her at her office: (228) 357-5227.