Last week, news spread quickly of the unexpected death of legendary musician, Prince. Posts covered Facebook news feeds. Twitter exploded with comments lamenting the loss. Tributes rang out musically on stages across Broadway, concert halls, and Saturday Night Live. No one expected this news. No one expected his death. But sometimes, as sudden as lightening can strike, death can occur.
It would seem too that even Prince thought he could put off planning. CNN Money reported less than a week after his death that Prince’s sister has filed papers requesting a Special Administrator, stating that Prince died without a will. Reuters reported the same. So what does this mean? It means the state of Minnesota, where Prince was a resident, will decide what happens.*
What Happens When You Die Without a Will
In a way, everyone already has a plan for what happens to your belongings after death. If you don’t have one that is personal to you–that is, a will–your state’s laws decide. This is called dying intestate. In that situation, the law takes over, and whatever you would have wanted no longer matters.
In Florida, just getting money from a traditional bank account can require that a personal representative (also called an executor or executrix) is required. This means a probate will need to be opened with the court system. Notices need to be published for potential creditors. And likely, an attorney will need to be hired.
A large part of dying without a will involves determining who the heirs are. If you have a spouse and no children, this can be straight-forward. But things can quickly become complicated. If you have children and a new spouse not their parent, things are split differently. If you have no spouse or children, the state turns to your parents or siblings. And if you have half-siblings and only one parent living, your half-siblings could potentially be left out entirely.
But My Estate is Not Worth $300 Million
The size of your estate does not determine whether you need a will. Instead, your life’s situation and what you have does. As said above, often just getting money from a bank account can require an intestate probate. For some people, this seems fine. But it can also be costly. Few realize that having the state sort out what happens with your belongings can actually be much more expensive than having a will drafted for you. As in thousands of dollars more expensive.
Tragedy also recently touched a friend’s life when her husband passed away, leaving her and two high-school-age children. At a minimum, with no blended family and a rather straight-forward estate, this will likely cost her over $4,000.00 to sort out. Most attorneys would charge far less than half of that amount to draft a basic will. (How Much for a Simple Will?)
The old saying promises you can count on death. And taxes.* We know these things will happen. We can make it easier (and usually less expensive) for our loved ones by planning in advance. To talk about your needs, call an estate planning attorney to discuss your specific situation and help you develop a plan that puts your wishes in place, making sure that your belongings are handled they way you want.
*Of course, Prince’s lack of estate planning probably also means his estate will likely pay a hefty estate tax under both federal law and Minnesota law.