Last week, the world mourned the death of the music icon Prince. This week, as his family continues to deal with the loss, his sister told a Minnesota court that her brother didn’t leave an estate plan. Without a will, his family is facing a time-consuming and costly legal process.
His story is a reminder that everyone needs an estate plan.
What Happens Without a Plan?
If you die without a will or living trust in place, you have no control over what happens to your assets—your home, money, heirlooms and keepsakes. Everything goes into probate. Probate is an expensive and painfully long legal process that determines who gets your stuff. It can take a few months to a few years to complete, depending on how much your estate is worth. And Prince’s estate, worth an estimated $300 million at his death, continues to grow as the sales of his music have exploded in the week since his death. There is a lot at stake!
The Problem With Probate
When he passed away, Prince was not married and had no living children. His parents are both gone. He leaves behind one full sibling and five half-siblings. Without a will, Prince’s assets must now go through probate court. His assets will probably be divided among his sister and his half-siblings. If that happens, they would also have legal control of his brand and record label, not to mention his unreleased, unpublished music—supposedly thousands of songs locked away in a vault in the basement of his home.
Here’s the deal, though. According to his former manager, Prince didn’t want the songs to see the light of day. He’d planned on burning them. But since Prince didn’t leave a will outlining his wishes, his family can do whatever they want with that music—including producing every single song in that vault. Since there was no plan left behind, other people will get to decide their own plan!
That’s the problem with not having an estate plan. His family can do whatever they want with everything he left behind.
And so can everyone else who is awarded a piece of his estate.
In probate court, anyone—including Prince’s band members, producers, managers, former managers, and former wives—can make a claim that they have the right to some of his assets. The court judge will decide who has a legal right to any part of his estate. And that can mean a nasty, costly legal battle. In many states, lawyers’ fees are a percentage of the estate. Take six siblings, add in other people who want a piece of his wealth, and multiply that by their lawyers’ fees. The result is a big chunk of money gone from the estate—possibly millions of dollars—because Prince didn’t take the time for estate planning.
The lesson is clear. Don’t allow strangers to grab a piece of your legacy. Take steps to protect yourself and the people who you love the most.
The Power of an Estate Plan
An estate plan takes away any question about what you want to happen to your stuff when you die. You determine what happens—not the court. It also specifies what life-saving measures you want used (or not used) should you get seriously ill. And if you have minor children, it states who will be their legal guardian.
Your estate may not be worth $300 million, but you still need to make a plan for it. You’ve worked years to build your wealth, and you want your legacy to bless your family and friends, not burden them.
Putting together an estate plan sets you at ease because you know what will happen when you die. It ensures that the right people take care of your children. And it saves your family the emotional and financial costs of going through probate, not to mention any squabbles they might’ve had over money.
Thinking about what would happen after your death may be tough to consider initially, but it’s one of the most selfless and loving actions you can take for your family.