The Lesson from Picasso Does Not Paint A Pretty Picture

Pablo Picasso is credited with saying, “Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone.” Ironically, Picasso died intestate, meaning he had no Will. When he died in 1973 at age 91, he left a large tax bill owed to France and, among his other heirs, a child born out-of-wedlock who had to fight to be legally recognized as an heir. Ultimately, it took years and a reported 19 lawyers to settle his estate.

If you, like many of us, are distracted with paying off student loan debt and your mortgage, you may not realize that you do have assets that will need to be dealt with if you become incapacitated or when you die. There are countless blog posts and newsletter articles advising people to make an estate plan. However, a 2017 survey by caring.com found that over half of Americans have no estate plan in place. An estate plan becomes even more important if you have children, as an estate plan may include not only asset distribution instructions but also guardianship and support plans for your children. Despite this, over 70% of those with children under the age of 18 have no estate plan. If you die without naming a guardian for your minor children, a judge will ultimately make that decision instead. The judge may not choose the person you would have selected.

Additionally, minor children cannot directly receive assets from, for example, a life insurance policy where they are named as a beneficiary (nor would you want them to!). Therefore, you should also appoint a guardian of their property. Even if your children are legally adults, they may be too young to responsibly manage the amount of money they would inherit, even if it is a relatively small amount. A million dollars is a modest amount for a life insurance policy. However, most of us would agree that giving an 18 or even 21-year-old a million dollars with no restrictions is a mistake. Creating a trust for the benefit of your children will allow someone with more experience to help invest and manage those funds. An estate plan is also particularly important if you are in a partnership that is not recognized as a legal marriage. If you or your partner is in an accident or has a health care crisis, you want to ensure that you have the right to be involved in his or her care.

Even those who do create an estate plan often spend a lot of time thinking about their final wishes, such as who should receive their assets when they die, but do not think enough about who is going to carry out those wishes. Be mindful of family dynamics when choosing people to act as your representatives. Be sure to consider potential conflicts of interest. It may go without saying, but choose people you trust. Do not assume your wishes will be followed without being clear and explicit in your plan AND discussing your wishes with the people you appoint to carry them out.

As Picasso’s heirs discovered, legal fights over assets can get nasty. It is unfortunately common that family members spend all of the money they inherit on a legal fight and destroy relationships with other loved ones in the process. When family businesses are involved or assets are divided amongst a blended family, things can become even more complicated. An estate plan that has been carefully considered ahead of time can avoid heartache for your loved ones during a time of grief. It is admittedly not fun to think about the end of your life, especially if you are young and healthy. However, estate planning is not really about you. It is about those closest to you, who will be left to sort through the mess that occurs when a loved one dies without an adequate plan in place. The lesson here is to do as Picasso said, not as Picasso did.

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