It is inevitable that each of us will die someday – the question is when. Wills and estate lawyers advise that you should have a legally valid Will prepared for you so that when you die, the Executor you have appointed in your Will can administer your estate for you, and your assets can be distributed in accordance with your wishes.
The concept is simple; however, time and time again, people die without a Will and when that happens, the intestate succession laws in force in the jurisdiction in which you reside at the date of your death make that determination for you instead. Chances are, you would not approve of the government’s choice of beneficiaries for your estate.
For the musical artist known as Prince, whose estate could be worth over $300 million, his unexpected death on April 21, 2016 provides a stark illustration of the consequences of dying without a Will. At the date of his death, Prince had no spouse or common-law partner, and no children, as his only child, a son, sadly died soon after being born. Dozens of people came forward claiming to be his child or sibling; however, after various claims were made, a judge in a Minnesota state court determined that Prince’s sister and five half-siblings were the heirs of his estate. Moreover, a judge had to appoint a trust company as a temporary special administrator to deal with the immediate tasks of dealing with Prince’s assets and debts on his passing, as he had left no Will appointing an Executor.
We can never know how this musical genius intended to distribute his vast estate. He may or may not have wanted to benefit his six siblings in such a manner.
What can we learn from the passing of this famous star who was so talented and so famous, and yet died without a Will? It is recommended that you meet with a lawyer who is experienced in the area of wills and estate to have a legally valid Will prepared for you, and be prepared to discuss at least the following topics (which is not an exhaustive list by any means):
- Who should you appoint as the Executor of your estate?
- If the first person you appointed as the Executor of your estate predeceases you, becomes incapacitated, or renounces the right to act, who should you appoint as the alternate Executor of your estate?
- Who should you appoint as the Guardian of your minor children?
- If the first person you appointed as the Guardian of your minor children predeceases you, becomes incapacitated, or renounces the right to act, who should you appoint as the alternate Guardian of your minor children?
- Do you want to leave any specific bequests of money or property to any friends, family members, or charities?
- How do you want to distribute the residue of your estate, which is the amount left over after the payment of funeral expenses, debts, taxes and obligations?
- What happens if a beneficiary you have named in your Will pre-deceases you – what happens to their bequest?
- Are any testamentary trusts required for any of the beneficiaries you have named?
- How should your estate be distributed in the event of a “common disaster” and all your beneficiaries die at the same time?