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Michigan Elder Law Today

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Whether Prince or Pauper, Make an Estate Plan

I’m not rich. Do I really need a will or trust?

The shock of Prince’s death in April at age of 57 rocked the music world. The fact that he apparently died without leaving a will or trust rocked the legal world. You don’t have to be rich to have a will (or to be my girl, as the famous Prince lyric goes).

Prince died leaving no known spouse, children, parents, or grandparents behind. His closest relatives apparently are five half-siblings and one full sister. His estate-- which includes $27 million in real estate holdings, untold cash and investments, and the obscenely valuable vault of unreleased songs-- could be worth an estimated $500 million.

Whether you are Prince, or just feel like a pauper compared to him, you need an estate plan. That is, unless you don’t really care who inherits your little red corvette and other assets.

When you die without a will or trust in place that specifies who you want to inherit your assets, you’re considered to have died “intestate”. Without your instructions specified in a properly executed legal document, the court will distribute your assets in accordance with your particular state’s intestacy succession laws. In Prince’s case, his sister and half-siblings will share his fortune, whether or not that’s what he would have wanted.

Based on the assumption that most people who die without a will or trust would have named their closest relatives as beneficiaries, intestacy laws distribute assets to those most closely related to the deceased. Often that will be the surviving spouse and/or children, so the intestacy distribution is often what the decedent would have wanted if s/he had made a will. But in many cases, it isn’t.

Sometimes, the intestacy succession is not what the deceased would have wanted. There may be reasons to give less or more to a spouse, or to give less, more, or nothing to a child, or to give something to a friend, partner, or charity. Without a will or trust defining your wishes, you lose control of the distribution.

While a will is a matter of public record, a trust is private. If Prince, a notoriously private person, had a trust, the details surrounding his assets and who inherited them would have remained private. Now, they are public.

When it comes to deciding on whether you should have a will or trust, it doesn’t matter how much you own or what you’re worth. What matters is that your assets—whatever they are worth—end up in the possession of the people, institutions, or charities that you want to receive them. Don’t be like Prince and the more than 60 percent of 45- to 54-year-olds that don’t have wills.

If you don’t have a will or trust or you want to revise an existing estate plan, contact experienced Elder Law and Estate Planning attorney Andrew Byers, Esq., at (248) 301-1511 today for a consultation. He serves clients in Auburn Hills, Michigan as well as clients throughout Oakland County and the metropolitan Detroit area.


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