Celebrities who died without a will: Prince

Only the most well-known and successful people in the world can go by one name and have everyone know who you are talking about. Oprah. Beyonce. LeBron. Prince. We know these names as well as we know our neighbors, and in some cases, we know them better than our neighbors. The Law Office of Bryan Fagan recently posted a video on our Estate Planning YouTube channel which has to do with Prince not having a will completed before his death. Attorney Megone Trewick even sang a little of Prince’s hit song, “Purple Rain” at the beginning of the video. If nothing else, watching the video is worthwhile just to hear her sing.

However, her ability to flex the golden pipes is not the best reason to watch her video. Attorney Trewick provides you with a terrific overview of Prince’s situation after he passed away. His parents predeceased him, he had siblings at the time of his death and had a live-in girlfriend. A resident of Minnesota, Prince’s girlfriend was not able to make an argument that she was Prince’s common-law wife as she could have in Texas. In Minnesota, not having a will meant that Prince’s longtime girlfriend was treated under the law like a roommate. She got nothing and his siblings got everything.

Even if you think this is appropriate, the question we are going to be thinking about today is what Prince would have wanted as far as where his property goes. To my knowledge, no state allows a person to testify to what another person wanted as far as their estate is concerned. This may be allowed in conjunction with a will already drafted or other evidence, but you cannot expect a court will honor your wishes if those wishes are told to a person with nothing written down. This means that you need to take action to avoid a situation like Prince ran into.

What we focus on here at the Law Office of Bryan Fagan is that estate planning is unique to you and your situation. We do not take the estate plan for a client we worked on last week, change the name hand it over to you, and recommend that you follow that plan. It would be easier to do this but it would not be appropriate. We work with our clients to help them create an estate plan that suits their needs now and in the future. We understand that you may not have all the answers but we will work to help you answer those pressing questions so you can have peace of mind surrounding a process that often strips us of our sense of stability.

Legacy is a word that we hear tossed around a lot in estate planning. However, frequently we hear the word used it does not take away from how legitimately important your legacy is. Having a legacy or passing down a legacy does not mean that your legacy needs to be money or great wealth. Statistically speaking, most of us will not die with millions upon millions of dollars to our name. Most of us will die with some money and that money needs to be accounted for don’t get us wrong. However, the true impact of a legacy is on how you can consider the needs of those closest to you and then take the steps necessary to ensure your wealth can benefit that person, charity, church, or other cause in which you believe.

This begins with figuring out a plan. The most basic part of the plan would be: to whom do you want to leave your property? That could be relatives, friends, co-workers, a church, a charity, or anything in between. Having a will allows you to be surgical with how you divide up your wealth. Imagine a surgeon performing a delicate operation with a precise tool- sharp, light, and able to be wielded easily. Now imagine the same surgeon needing to perform the exact same operation- this time with a carving knife. The surgeon- despite having the same skill level in each operation- would not be as proficient using the carving knife as he would the scalpel. In an end-of-life situation, not having a will is like forcing the surgeon to use the carving knife rather than the scalpel. He may be able to complete the surgery, but the odds of success are not as high as they would have been had the scalpel been available.

What do you own?

If you have built up a fair chunk of change in your life but have not stopped to figure out exactly what you own, then now is the time. This is known as inventorying your property. Most of us are moving so quickly through life that we cannot stop to look around and see what we have built up for ourselves. In a world that is constantly telling us to do more, run faster, and worry about the consequences afterward, I am here to tell you that you should be looking around your home, your investments and anywhere else you own property. Finding out what you own can be a surprising part of this process. It all goes back to being intentional. The more intentional you are the better planning you will undertake when your estate is concerned.

One of the great myths about estate planning is that it is only for rich people. You’ll hear that from others from time to time- Only rich folks have wills. Not true. I can attest to many, many middle-class, lower-middle-class, and working-class people having wills. I have seen teenagers, fresh out of high school have wills. If this wide array of people can submit to a bit of estate planning, then I know that you can, as well. However, all it takes is developing a reason why you want to go through the estate planning process in the first place. In other words, I am recommending that you find your “why.”

Develop your “why” and then you can fly

I wasn’t intending for that title to rhyme but here we are. Before you start the process of figuring out how much property you own, I recommend that you take some quiet time to figure out what is motivating you to create an estate plan in the first place. Is it your spouse with a health condition who you want to provide for should something happen to you? What about your grandchildren? Have you become more involved at church and want to leave a substantial portion of your estate to them? Whatever the specifics are for your case you should be ready to help identify your why so that you can move forward with the estate planning process.

When you have a “why” in mind it will help you push past any adversity which you may face during the estate planning timeline. There may be times that come up when you would rather be doing anything else other than meeting with an attorney, figuring out your numbers, and then figuring out how to communicate your desires into a will. That person, church, cause, or other motivating factor will allow you to keep going through whatever adversity you face.

Why is an estate plan important?

Now that you have taken some time to figure out why you are creating an estate plan you should learn some about why having an estate plan is important at all. If your property was going to be left to your immediate family after you die anyway, why take the time and spend your money on a will and a lawyer?

One of the most crucially important parts of having a will is that doing so puts into writing your desires as far as an estate is concerned. You have worked hard to create your estate. The property, the cash, the savings, the peace of mind. The ability to control your destiny at least when it comes to controlling where your property ends up at your passing. This is not an automatic thing in Texas. We have already talked about how if you don’t have a will then this control will not be a part of your estate planning. Here is what you can expect to happen- or, rather, what your family can expect to happen after you die if you do not have a will.

Dying without a will means uncertainty. Your family will already be dealing with uncertainty given your recent passing. The roles you played in the life of your family as well as the knowledge of you as a leader, a tent pole in their lives. You’re gone and with it the stability you provided. Memories of time spent with you rush into their minds and hearts. This is a time that for thousands of years, human beings circle the wagons and spend time with those closest to them remembering the recently deceased.

However, in your family’s situation, their desire to do this may be preempted by worry. If you are still working when you pass away what will become of the home, your family bills, college tuition costs, groceries, taxes- the list goes on and on. Sure, your family is aware vaguely that you have money saved in the bank and probably some investments but there has never been a specific discussion on the matter. However, now that you have passed on there is a specific need to know what comes next as far as the family finances are concerned. Did you have a will? Your family has no idea.

Your spouse and children look around your office, in the desk drawers, and anywhere else where you may have left a will. Finding nothing they quickly realize that despite a life well-led you did not draft a will. This means that a probate case will likely be necessary. That probate case will eat into the value of your estate and can cause a great deal of stress for the family. Any creditors of yours will need to be notified and paid before any property can ultimately be distributed. For a family who may need money now to pay for essentials, the probate case can seem to take an eternity to complete.

The bottom line is that by passing away without a will, your family is put into the position of needing to search for answers to legal questions during a time better spent thinking about their memories of you and one another. Had you drafted a will your family would know your wishes know where things stand financially and have some peace of mind in a turbulent time. This is what estate planning is, ultimately. Not trying to save money or do what is best financially. Rather, this is an opportunity for you to do what is best for your family.

Deciding to whom your property should be left

Many people, depending upon the size of their family, are tempted to just leave all their property to one person- a spouse, a child, a friend, etc. This can reduce the amount of time that must go into the estate planning process, and it may even be what you want to see happen with your property. You should explore this option if it interests you with an experienced estate planning lawyer. However, based on our experience this is probably not what you or most people would want to do.

Who in your life would want to receive a particular piece of property? Money is money but you also own personal property and objects which hold a sentimental value for those in your life. Who would want to have that item after you pass away? Go through your home, inventory those items, and then determine each person’s connection to the item- if any. Then you will know to whom the property should be left. The family home is a unique property item, but if you are not married then deciding to leave it to a family member who could use a home may be a great way to show your love for him or her.

Consider the needs of a family or anyone else that you know when creating your will. If you know that there is a person in your life who has a medical need and could therefore benefit from receiving money out of your estate, then that is a factor to consider. The beauty of a will is that you can take the time you need to create a plan of action for those in your life. A plan of action that allows him or her to be able to prosper after you are gone. Not having a will means that you are leaving it up to chance how your property will be distributed.

A probate court judge would utilize the Texas Estates Code when deciding on how to divide up property. This means that the letter of the law and not so much the judgment of the judge matters. Your spouse, children, and other immediate family would be first in line to receive property after you pass away. If that is not who you want your property to end up with then you need to act while you still can. Creating a will allows you to be in the driver’s seat when it comes to how your property will be divided and ultimately distributed.

What to learn from Prince and his situation

Prince died without a will. He was a man who succeeded tremendously as far as his professional life was concerned. All those hit songs. All the memories he created. One of the most well-known performers of the 20th century. However, for all his wealth and accomplishments he did not put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and create a will. That was a mistake. Hopefully, his wealth was ultimately divided up in a way that was fair and benefited his siblings. However, a judge had much less of an idea about what the Prince wanted to see happen with his property than the man himself did.

You can take the steps necessary to create an estate plan for yourself. It won’t benefit you materially, but it could stand to benefit your family and those around you tremendously. It all starts with a plan. If you can develop a plan for your property, then you will be off to a great start. If you want to know where you can start the process of developing a plan for your estate, then please do not hesitate to reach out to the Law Office of Bryan Fagan today. Our attorneys take pride in serving others and we aim to do so humbly and with the best intentions for our clients in mind.

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