A takeaway from Prince’s death: Do not die without a will

Prince is the latest celebrity to die without a will. To many of us it was shocking that this music legend did not leave instructions on how to administer his vast fortune. When celebrities die without a will it makes headline news. Despite the fact that about 50% of Americans die every year without a will, it is not newsworthy and yet it can be equally as difficult and traumatic for family members left behind.
When a person dies without a will, there are no instructions for the distribution of assets, leaving the state to make the decision through laws known as intestacy laws. Although the specifics vary by state, generally the laws provide that surviving spouses, parents, children and other blood relatives inherit designated amounts and or percentages of the estate. This means that couples who never married, friends or charitable institutions will not receive an inheritance, regardless of what the deceased wanted or intended to do.
Under Massachusetts intestate law, for example, a surviving spouse inherits the entire estate if there are no surviving parents or children or if the surviving children are also the children of the surviving spouse. If a person dies leaving a surviving spouse and a surviving parent but no children, then the surviving spouse receives the first $200,000, plus 75% of the balance of the estate, with the parent receiving the remaining 25%. If a person dies without a surviving spouse or children, then the estate is left to the surviving parent or parents.
In Prince’s case, he was not married, had no children, and his parents are deceased. Under Minnesota law his sister and his half-siblings will likely inherit his assets including property, music, unreleased music, and control of his image, legacy and other intellectual property. However, as recently as last week, several additional people have come forward claiming to be heirs to his estimated $300 million fortune. So suffice to say the special administrator appointed by the probate and family court in Minnesota to oversee Prince’s estate faces significant challenges to determine the legal heirs and years of court battles.
Of course, leaving the management and distribution of your estate to the state and probate court is easily avoidable by simply leaving a will with instructions. Naming a person to distribute your assets in accordance with your wishes and also naming a guardian to care for any minor children, is your prerogative. The choice is yours to control how your estate is handled or leave it to the state to decide on your behalf.

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