It’s quite possible that the tone of this writing will come off as sounding insensitive, and for that, I’m sorry…but I’m not sorry. Like many people I know, I was shocked to hear about the untimely death of Prince—no doubt a musical genius that has impacted multiple generations. Over the last few days, I have noticed a news story circulating online about the status of Prince’s estate since it’s been discovered that he died without a will. That’s right— Prince, who has an estate that’s estimated to be worth 300-500 million dollars, died without even the most basic estate planning documents in place.
I spent a few years on the fringe of the fashion and entertainment industries, and I can state with 100% certainty that Prince had a team of people who were part of his inner circle that helped him run his empire. You don’t have the concerts, recording deals, performance contracts, etc. without a group of people overseeing the fine details. Here’s my question for them:
Who on earth was responsible for getting this guy a proper estate plan?!
It’s highly likely that the weeks ahead will reveal all of the details of Prince’s private financial life-because that’s what happens when your estate goes through probate court-even if you’re a multimillion dollar celebrity. There’s no doubt that many media articles and Facebook posts will be written to discuss all of the juicy details. Some will even bemoan the horrendous estate taxes that will be owed to the state of Minnesota and our Federal Government, and it’s true—estate taxes are disgusting. However, they are also completely predictable and somewhat avoidable! There is one certainty that we all have when it comes to financial planning…that is the undeniable fact that 100 out 100 of us will die at some point. To not plan for this inevitable truth is financial apathy at its worst.
While I don’t feel sorry for Prince…
I do feel sorry for his surviving family members who will likely have to secure very expensive legal representation—possibly to fight over royalties from Prince’s music, possibly to fight each other for shares of his estate. Whatever happens, it won’t be pretty… the only thing I can guarantee is that some legal teams are about to make a ton of money. Isn’t it sad that Prince worked his entire life—and most likely Uncle Sam and attorneys will be his largest beneficiaries?
I do feel sorry for his family not only because they lost their loved one and the legal mess, but they don’t have a roadmap to follow from here. Lines will be drawn, arguments will be had…it’s not uncommon at all for families to split over just tiny inheritances—what kind of damage will 500 million do?
I feel sorry for all of the charities and foundations that Prince helped while he was alive. I’ve heard that he was quite philanthropic—but preferred to give in secret. The massive opportunity for him to incorporate charitable giving as part of his legacy has now died with him…and it didn’t have to be that way.
Lastly, I feel sorry for the countless Americans who will read about this situation and still do nothing for themselves. We will likely continue to see this trend in our nation whenever someone rich and famous dies—the media covers all of the details they can about their estate and the mistakes made by them. Yet, so many Americans will read about it and move on, as if the same laws don’t apply to them because they aren’t mega-wealthy.
A will is the most basic, foundational document that we have to legally transfer property. You know all of those arguments that you see being had about our rights as Americans? Our rights to property? Well, your last will and testament is your way of legally passing property and guiding the court system on how to do so. Of course, there are much easier ways to pass property—by contract or by operation of law. You can even have privacy and control of your assets after death if you have properly designed trust documents. However, to not have a will—that’s like saying,“what will be, will be” to your family!
SPECIAL NOTE— If you have small children or dependent children, your will is the document where you get to name your choices for Guardianship. The court will decide on the guardians (officially), but the court also looks to the will for guidance. Imagine what happens when you don’t have a will? The courts have to “do their best”.
I have a great friend who is an attorney, and one of his favorite statements is:
“The fact that you create a will doesn’t somehow magically give you permission to die.”
The truth is, any of us can go at any time—doesn’t it make sense to be prepared so that your family isn’t left with dealing with a mess?
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