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Show Your Estate Plan a Little R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Aretha Franklin, the “Queen of Soul” died on August 16, 2018.  It has been reported that she died without a Will or Trust.  Aretha is in good company, as she has joined the surprisingly long list of celebrities who die without a Will, the most recent of which was Prince.

As an estate planning attorney, I can understand why this happens. A celebrity’s life is complex. They have many different types of assets, multiples homes, and many family and friends who they may have been financially supporting over the years.  How do you sort all that out and make final decisions about who gets what? It’s complicated, as are many important things in life.  However, many things that are difficult are worth doing. Here’s why it’s important to speak to an attorney experienced in preparing Wills and Trusts about your creating a Last Will and Testament.

If you die without a Will, you are said to die “intestate.”  The intestate laws of each state provide a so-called “Will” for those who die without one, as those laws specify who receives your assets if you die without a Will.  However, most people do not die intending to rely on the intestate laws for the distribution of their assets, and neither should you.  Here’s why:

  • The intestate laws can be changed by the state legislature at any time. Massachusetts’ intestate laws were changed in 2012.  So, even if you know what your state’s intestate laws say today about where your assets would be distributed if you pass away, those laws (and the way your assets are distributed) could change without your knowledge.  Further, if a family member passes away before you do, the entire intestate distribution scheme can change.  Essentially, leaving the distribution of your estate up to the state intestate law takes the distribution of your estate out of your control.
  • Certainty is good, both for you and for your heirs. A Will allows you to be very specific about how your assets are distributed and to whom, and leaves no question in the mind of your family about whether this is really what you wanted.
  • A Will also allows you to name a Personal Representative who is the person in charge of identifying and taking control of your assets after your death, paying debts and taxes, and distributing your assets according to the terms of your Will. If you die intestate, the Court will also need to appoint a Personal Representative, but it will be whoever applies for the job (i.e. your sibling who you would not trust manage $20 responsibly), and not the person you have designated in your Will.
  • A Will prepared by an experienced estate planning attorney includes administrative provisions that will save your estate time and expense in the estate administration process.
  • For most people, an estate plan that includes a Trust has added benefits, including avoiding a probate court proceeding at death (with the added bonus of steep filing fees and long delays), keeping distribution instructions private, and the ability to hold assets in trust for young beneficiaries or those who may require assistance with the management of an inheritance.

Although you may be following in the steps of some of the rich and famous if you die without a Will, you and your family will not have the privacy, cost-savings and time-savings benefits that a well-drafted estate plan will provide. Show a little respect to your estate plan and your loved ones and speak with an attorney experienced in preparing Wills and Trusts today!

September, 2018

© 2018 Samuel, Sayward & Baler LLC