Lessons Everyone Can Learn From Prince's Estate
By now, most have seen the headlines announcing the untimely death of Prince Nelson, better known as “Prince.” The famously talented and controversial musician, songwriter, performer, businessman, philanthropist, and pop star passed on April 21st at age 57. Since Prince’s death, it has been reported that he died without a will, which is legally referred to as dying “intestate”. These reports are premature, because there is still an ongoing search for Prince’s Last Will and Testament, and the current legal proceedings are largely to determine who should manage Prince’s estate until either his will is found or a court deems him to have died intestate. All of this intrigue over Prince’s estate brings to mind both complications that are often seen with failing to plan.
Prince’s estate demonstrates the importance of having a will and –less obviously – the importance of storing the Will in a place that it can be found readily at your death. Most of us do not have an enormous estate with a “music vault” or one worth hundreds of millions of dollars, but many of us have significant holdings and are quite private in where we keep important documents. While this privacy serves well to prevent identity theft and other modern harms, the Prince estate shows just how difficult it can be to locate important items without a road map. For this very reason, we frequently advise clients to keep copies of their estate planning documents in an accessible place, such as a file cabinet or safe. Furthermore, the key or combination to these storage locations need to be available to the appropriate people at the appropriate time.
Not drafting a Will or having your Will in a location where it may not be found, means you could be considered intestate when you die. Where an estate is subject to intestate administration, the easy things become complicated. The desires and wishes of the deceased individual are not important to the court, but rather the property is administered in accordance with state statute. The statutes cannot fully contemplate the relationships that may have existed (or not existed) between the deceased and his relatives. Intestacy statutes determine heirs based on their degree of familial relationship to the deceased. Accordingly, intestate estates often invite distant relatives to “come out of the woodwork.” For example, a previously unknown individual who purports to be related to Prince has already filed to be considered an heir of Prince.
On a more nuts and bolts level, an administrator needs to be appointed for the estate, and other basic procedural issues need to be resolved. Basic issues such as these often necessitate court hearings where intent has not been clearly reduced to writing via a Will or Trust. In the context of Prince’s estate, the expense of such proceedings is well worth it, but for a modest estate such proceedings can exhaust the resources available.
While the Prince estate offers some insight into some of the issues that arise when a will has not been found, the important thing to remember is that, when a plan has not been made, the wishes of the decedent are immaterial. Most of us do not like considering our death. But all of us have some idea of where we would like things to end up at our death. I have yet to meet a client when prompted with the question “Where would you like your estate to go at your death?” who responded, “To pay the court costs and lawyer’s fees for an expensive estate contest.” Some estimate that nearly 60% of Americans have not executed a Will, and it is certainly not the case that all of their wishes agree with the statutes of their home state.
Hook Law Center: Kit Kat, what can you tell us about the latest theory on how the dinosaurs died out?
Kit Kat: Well, the latest theory that scientists now believe in is that non-avian dinosaurs declined over a period of 50 million years, and then just suddenly disappeared. In the past, it was believed that a cataclysmic event occurred, and they were suddenly wiped out with no prior period of decline occurring. The new theory is based on research conducted by scientists at the University of Reading and the University of Bristol, both in England. Using sophisticated techniques of analyzing fossils, they found that dinosaurs were in a varying state of decline over a 50-million-year period. Not all kinds of dinosaurs were declining at exactly the same time; however, the overall trajectory of the species was that they were declining in numbers. An exception to this, they say, were the duck-billed dinosaurs which were actually increasing during this period. Nonetheless, dinosaurs as a group were in decline. Then, a major event like an asteroid impact or volcanic eruptions, or both intervened. It is most likely that these events forced a dramatic climate change (cooling), and the dinosaurs faded out of existence.
Perhaps, the experience of the dinosaurs can lend perspective to the climate change occurring now—a gradual warming of the planet. In part, change almost seems inevitable, whether by natural or man-made causes. Before the dinosaurs, there was the Triassic period. Next came the Jurassic period, when dinosaurs were at their peak. As the earth cooled and dinosaurs no longer roamed, mammals, including humans, became ascendant. It will be for subsequent generations to look at today’s climate and living conditions and pinpoint exactly how the early 2000s fit in the overall scheme of climatic history and living conditions for the creatures of the earth.
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