What do Prince and 64% of Americans Have in Common?

            While Prince is one of the most famous performers of our time and was loved and adored by millions of fans, it appears that he made one mistake that, for his family, is going to last well beyond his musical legacy … he failed to prepare a will. Despite having hundreds of millions of dollars and some of the best attorneys and advisors at his disposal, he didn’t take even the most basic of steps to prepare for his death. As a result, instead of mourning Prince’s loss, his brothers and sisters are spending their days arguing and fighting in court at probate hearings about what will happen to Prince’s estate.  

            Although Prince’s musical talent was one-of-a-kind, his failure to adequately prepare for his passing is unfortunately all too common. According to a recent Harris Poll, 64% of Americans don’t have a will. While none of us want to think about our own mortality, the people who truly suffer if we don’t take any steps to prepare for our ultimate passing are those that were most important to us during our lives. A person who dies without a will is said to have died “intestate”. If a person dies intestate, the determination of who will inherit his or her assets and make decisions with these assets after he or she dies is based on the laws of the particular state where that person lived at the time of his or her death.   

            By taking even the simplest measures, we can all ensure that the people we care about the most during our lives are given clear guidance and direction upon our death about what to do with what we owned and cherished the most. In addition to making sure that the physical assets we own at our death are given to the people we choose, preparing a will is another gift we can give to our loved ones so they don’t have to wonder about our true wishes and wait for a court to tell them what happens with our assets. This goes for something as small as who we might want to receive our baseball card collection to something as large the value of our home or the money in our savings account. Also, most importantly for all of us with young children, preparing a will allows us to direct who we want to be guardians of our children if something happens to us. Without this formal appointment, the state laws and the court will be deciding who will take care of our children.

            While we can’t all be world famous performers and we don’t all have a net worth around $300 million, we all have families, friends and loved ones who we care for and who care about us. While carefully considering and preparing a detailed estate plan that takes into account tax savings structures and directions for managing and distributing a person’s assets is crucial for anyone with significant assets, as described above, preparing a will isn’t reserved for the wealthy and is extremely important for all of us to consider.  Instead of letting the state decide who will inherit our assets and who will be guardians of our children, we all owe it to the important people in our lives to make those decisions in advance.

            Even though we all like to live “in the moment” and not think about what might happen in the future, Prince’s death has taught has that, while we can try to act like it’s always 1999, we need to first make sure we’ve put in writing what happens with our little red corvette.

            Ken Kams is a general corporate and estate planning attorney based in Dedham, Massachusetts. He can be reached at ken@kamslawgroup.com.

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