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Celebrities who died without a will: Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse was a singer/songwriter who died on July 23, 2011, of alcohol poisoning. Her biggest hit as a performer is the ironically named, “Rehab,” which described her loved one’s attempts to convince the singer to go into rehabilitation for various addictions. Unfortunately, Ms. Winehouse was never able to get the better of her addictions and she ended up dying due to overconsumption of alcohol. Like many great performers who died too young, she passed away at the age of 27.

In addition to being a great performer and songwriter, Ms. Winehouse's life can be viewed as a cautionary tale. For one, her life was one of great possibility only to be cut short due to an alcohol addiction. This blog post is not the place to go for advice on how to succeed despite an alcohol or drug addiction, but we will mention that there are resources available to those of you who are interested and ready to stop using substances that can harm or even kill you. Reaching out to your primary care provider, therapist, human resources representative at your employer or religious leader can be a terrific way to start on that journey towards bettering yourself.

Otherwise, Ms. Winehouse’s life was also marked by her not having created a will before her passing. With an estate worth millions of dollars, Ms. Winehouse did not take the time to create a will. She was British and there may be differences in how the law in Britain treats intestacy (dying without a will) versus how we do so in Texas. However, in almost all cases it is best to die with a will due to the control that you will be able to exert over your property. When you die without a will, a probate judge in the jurisdiction where you died or resided will be able to apply the laws of intestate distribution to your case. This means that the law will be coldly applied to your case and no consideration will be given to what you would have wanted or the circumstances of your family.

This brings us back to our own lives here in the United States in 2023. What Ms. Winehouse's family went through over a decade ago in a country far away from our own has parallels to what many of us are going through right now. We worry about our futures and how we are going to provide for our children, but do we give any thought as to how we are going to provide for them if something were to happen to us were we to pass away? It's not as if any of us think we are not going to die, but the fact is that our circumstances put us in a position where we can get so distracted that it can be difficult to focus on anything that is not an immediate need or concern.

That’s the trouble with having a will. When you have it, you do not need it. A will only go into effect when you pass away. Until then it does not control any of your actions nor those of any other person. However, when you die and do not have a will it is too late. At that point, your good intentions do not mean a thing. When you needed to put in the work necessary to create your will and prepare for the future you were unable to do so. It sounds rough to put it into those terms, but it is the absolute truth. What you need to figure out is how can you turn those moments in life where everything seems too busy into moments where you can think ahead and plan your estate.

On top of that, as a young person, you probably thought similarly to Ms. Winehouse- that you were always going to have tomorrow to plan or act intentionally about your estate or any other matter. You may never have had the thought to plan your estate thus far in your life. As a performer, Ms. Winehouse was in a cutthroat, competitive industry that required her complete devotion. She was writing music, recording music, touring, and doing everything else that a recording artist does. That she spent her free time indulging in substance abuse is not defensible, but it is understandable to an extent.

However, that did not save her family from having to go through the remnants of her life after she had passed. This is not the legacy that you want to leave for your family. If you are like me, you think about doing the best you can for your family while you can do it. This not only means making money and setting a standard for your children, but it also means thinking ahead and being intentional about caring for your children after you are gone. Planning your estate is the best way to do this. Fortunately for you, this is not something that you have to go into alone.

The attorneys with the Law Office of Bryan Fagan offer free of charge consultations to people in your exact position. Maybe you don’t know much about the world of estate planning, but you do know that you have a young child whom you are responsible for. If something were to happen to you what would happen to him? You need to have an answer for that just as readily as you do an answer to the question, what is your child going to eat for dinner tonight? Let our attorneys help you figure out the answer to that question for you and your family.

In today's blog post, we are going to detail what it means to plan your estate as a young person. Whether you are single, married, have kids, or have none, you need to be able to plan your estate effectively. We are going to share with you why you must have a will. This is not something that you can wait on. It is not, unfortunately, something that you can put together at a moment's notice without first having planned out the steps of how you are going to prepare for your estate planning. There are many moving pieces to this process, and we hope that today’s blog post will help you start the planning that you need to perform these tasks well.

If you have any questions about what we have included in today’s blog post, please reach out to the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. We offer consultations that are free of charge. You can come and sit with one of our attorneys, talk to us on the phone, or even schedule a video conference with one of our attorneys. Whether you are someone who has been estate planning for years and just need an update or are beginning the process for the first time we understand where you are coming from and what you are feeling in this moment. We take seriously the responsibility of being asked questions in a consultation and take the time necessary to go over with you what we believe is important based on the information provided to us.

Where should a young person start when it comes to drafting a will?

When it comes to drafting a will all people, old or young, need to get a firm grasp on your financial life. Many of us walk around with an overly inflated or deflated sense of our finances- depending upon our situation. If we feel like we are not doing all that well, we can take this to the extreme and work the situation up to be one where we have reached a point of no return. We have too much debt, not enough income and the prospects for the future are bleak. Therefore, the natural question to ask ourselves is if estate planning even makes sense given our financial problems. We have nothing to pass on, so why plan your estate in the first place?

On the other hand, others of us tend to hold an overinflated view of our finances. We are doing so much better than the average person that we think we can out-earn our mistakes. If we have a problem with controlling our spending, then that can simply be remedied by earning more money. No problem is so big that our incomes and our ability to earn money can't paper over. Sound familiar? Personal finances are 80% behavior and 20% head knowledge. Meaning that you can be the smartest person in the world but if you can't control your behavior, you will never be able to get a handle on your finances.

In either situation, you and your spouse will need to sit down together and start to map out where you are financially. This may seem like we are getting away from our stated objective of talking about your estate planning situation, but I can promise you that we are not. If you do not have a firm grip on where your finances are then you will not be able to plan your estate adequately. The reason is that the first step to planning your estate is to have a firm grasp on your property, how much it is worth, and how much debt you have, if any. To perform this initial step in estate planning you need to know where personal finances are situated at the moment.

This is a great opportunity for you and your spouse to be able to put together your financial picture if you have never done this. Do you and your spouse have combined finances; do you know what the other is doing with spending? If you are single, have you gotten all your investments updated as far as checking on the stocks or mutual funds that each is invested in? What about beneficiaries for life insurance policies, bank accounts, and retirement accounts? These are all essential for a person like yourself who is trying to plan your estate. Figure out the answers to these questions and you will be able to figure out how to start planning your estate.

One of the parts of estate planning that many people gloss over relates to your amount of debt. Do you have debt is the first question that you should ask yourself. Go through your credit report and search for debts or credit accounts in your name. This will allow you to get a firm grasp on who would be coming after your estate for money if you were to suddenly pass away. The fewer creditors you have and the less money that you owe someone else, the more you can expect to be able to distribute to your beneficiaries as far as property is concerned.

Another benefit of going through your credit report is that you can make sure that you recognize all the creditors listed. For instance, you may have debt left over from a divorce that you had assumed your ex-spouse had taken care of but is still showing up as unpaid on your credit history. This is a good reason for you to go ahead and walk through your credit history to determine what debts are outstanding. Another issue that comes up is if someone has taken your identity without your permission and opened lines of credit or credit cards in your name. This could prevent you from purchasing a house, qualifying for a refinanced mortgage, or making similar purchases in the future. Like planning your estate, taking care of identity theft issues is a problem that needs to be dealt with sooner rather than later.

Once you have situated yourself as far as your debts are concerned, the next step in the process is to get a handle on your property and assets. These are things in your life that have a positive value (as opposed to your debts). Assets are things that you can reach out and touch with your vehicle, your home, and your personal property. Paintings, baseball cards, and other collectibles are all assets. Then you have intangible assets- you cannot touch them, but they are valuable, nonetheless. These would be things like your investments, retirement accounts, and cryptocurrency.

Once you have a run-down of all the properties which you own the next step is to determine an approximate value for these assets. For this, you can determine the value of this property in one of two ways. First, you can do it the old-fashioned way by looking up the value of an item like a painting and giving it your best estimate as far as value is concerned. It does not have to be an exact value. What you are trying to do is to figure out a roundabout value for each item you own so that you can help your attorney when determining the overall value of your estate. The reason for this is that the planning which goes into a $100,000 estate may be different than the planning that goes into a 5 million dollar estate.

Once you have determined all your debts, and property and have then assigned approximate property values to each item you will be in a good position to start determining where you want this property to go after you pass away. The beauty of planning your estate is that you can determine where your property ends up. This is not what happens if you do not plan your estate. When you die without a will, a probate court judge would apply the laws of intestacy to your estate and he or she would determine where your property ends up. When you have a will, the will is honored and executed by a person you appoint known as your executor.

Think through all the people in your life and determine who needs to get what. If you are married and have children, then your spouse and children may end up with all your property when your estate planning is completed. However, if you are single, you may have relatives, friends, or even organizations or charities that you would like to see receive property. The great part about creating a will is that your wishes will be honored, and your personality can influence where your property ends up and is ultimately distributed.

To avoid the fate of Amy Winehouse, you do not have to be a millionaire performer. All you need to do is be intentional about your assets and your goals when it comes to estate planning. Working with an experienced estate planning attorney is a great way for you to set goals for yourself, develop a strategy for accomplishing those goals, and put that plan into motion.

Questions about the material contained in today's blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan

If you have any questions about the material contained in today's blog post please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed estate planning attorneys offer free-of-charge consultations six days a week in person, over the phone, and via video. These consultations are a great way for you to learn more about the world of Texas estate planning as well as about how your family’s circumstances may be impacted by the filing of a probate case.

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