“The Queen of Soul,” “The Artist Formerly Known as Prince,” and “The Master of Contemporary Art” all have one thing in common. Each artist died without a Last Will and Testament. Why does that matter? In order to adequately protect your assets and provide for your family, an estate plan is crucial. While Aretha Franklin, Prince, and Picasso were millionaires with substantial assets at their death, an estate plan is important no matter the size of the estate or the number and value of your assets.
The most important document in an estate plan is the Last Will and Testament. This document memorializes your final wishes regarding the distribution of your personal property, real estate, payment of debts, and the general management of your estate. In this document, you also appoint someone to serve as your Personal Representative or Executor. This person manages your estate and distributes your property upon your death, based upon your final wishes.
When you die without a will, your estate is subject to distribution via intestate succession. Without getting into an in-depth discussion of probate law, this essentially means that state law governs how your property is distributed upon your death. Additionally, state law governs who can serve to administer and manage your estate; and that person is appointed by the court. You may be asking yourself the question, “why is that a bad thing?” Answer by asking yourself this: “do I want the state to govern the management and distribution of my property during my life; and if not, why would I want the state to control it upon my death?”
In the cases of Aretha, Prince, and Picasso, their respective estates were, and still are, tied up in many years of litigation. In such a situation, hearings must be held, heirs must be determined, administrators must be appointed, and all too often, parents, siblings, cousins, and other heirs are pitted against each other over the management and proposed distribution of assets. With a validly executed Last Will and Testament, the management of their estates and distribution of their assets would have been an easier process.
Although this is a sensitive topic for many to discuss, do yourself a favor — take the time to plan ahead by preparing a Last Will and Testament. While you might still want to “party like it’s 1999,” give yourself, your “little red Corvette,” and your loved ones some “R-E-S-P-E-C-T,” and schedule an appointment with an estate planning attorney. While larger estates often require more sophisticated planning and tax advice, no estate is too small to plan for and protect.
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