Music legend Prince left behind a catalog of hit songs but he also left behind a valuable lesson. You probably should have a will.
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Prince’s sister, Tyka Nelson, confirmed there is no evidence the 57-year old singer left a will. It now remains unclear who will inherit his vast fortune and legal experts say it could be a drawn out legal fight.
“A lot of people don’t think about a will until they are in their 60’s and 70’s and start thinking about retirement. But a will is important at any age,” says attorney Carl Glad, who specializes in wills and estate planning at the Law Offices of Kurt M. Ahlberg in Stratford, Connecticut.
You Decide or Let the State Decide
If you don’t have a will, state laws will decide how your assets will be divided. Each state has different laws. Typically, assets are split between the deceased person’s closest relatives—a spouse, children, grandchildren, parents and siblings. Unmarried partners, friends and charities are not included. If relatives cannot be located, the state may even take assets.
Glad says why give the state the power to decide what happens to your assets. “Each state is different but those laws will dictate where your assets, where everything you have ever owned, where it goes after your death and that may not be to the person or people you want it to go to,” he says.
In Prince’s case, without a will, it is a mystery who he intended to leave his fortune to whether it was family, friends or charities. Nelson is Prince's only full sibling. In court papers, she listed five half-siblings who may also have a claim to his estate. Glad says it may get complicated and ugly if lawyers for all parties fail to agree on how to divide assets.
Make It Easy on Your Loved Ones
You may not have Prince’s millions but Glad recommends having a will no matter how much you have in assets. He says taking control and having your wishes in writing will make it easier on your heirs. Without a will, your heirs may have to apply to a probate court and get an administrator to oversee your estate. An estate bond may also be required. It could be a lengthy and expensive process. By having a will, you can appoint your own executor and the probate process will likely be quicker and less costly to your heirs.
A will also allows you to disinherit individuals who may be entitiled to your estate. It can also close the door to potential legal fights between family members, reducing family stress and strife.
When You Must Have a Will
If you have minor children, legal experts say it is extremely important to have a will. It allows you to choose the person who will take care of your minor children in the event you die. If you don’t have a will, the court will decide between a family member or a state-appointed guardian.
No one wants to think about dying and leaving loved ones behind. But Prince’s loss shows us that death can be unexpected. By having a will, you are at least somewhat prepared and can make these important decisions for yourself rather than leaving it up to the state.
Writing a Will
If you have few assets or a simple estate, most people can write their own will using a will template. To make it legal, it must be signed by the person making the will (testator) and at least two witnesses. In many states, the witnesses cannot stand to inherit anything in the will. The will may also need to be notarized so it is important to check individual state laws.
If you have a high-net worth or extensive assets, writing a will may be more complicated and it may be a good idea to get help from an estate planning attorney. A qualified lawyer will know your state’s specific laws as well as tax consequences and can help draft your will accordingly.