The world learned recently that Prince joined the long list of celebrities who passed away intestate or without a will.  Some of the names on the list are surprising, others not so.  The Honorable Salvatore Phillip “Sonny” Bono, Michael Jackson, Howard Hughes, Abraham Lincoln, Pablo Picasso, Martin Luther King are all grouped together with such musical greats as Jimmy Hendrix, Curt Kobain and Amy Winehouse.  Pablo Picasso’s estate was valued at approximately $30 million upon his passing in 1973 and is now valued at several billion dollars and took several years to sort out.

 If a will does not surface, which seems likely, the local probate Court will follow Minnesota’s intestacy laws to divvy up at his estate which is initially estimated at at least $100 million and very well likely be worth several hundreds of millions of dollars.  While Prince was no doubt a creative genius on par with others who were considered truly great, his creativity did not go into the realm of financial planning, as a will is the most basic of all legal documents.  No doubt he could have afforded the most well paid team of lawyers to easily and without much interference value his estate and develop a legal strategy to help prevent public drama which could cost millions in legal fees as well as untold emotional costs to his family members and very well may cause an irreparable rift in family relations.  Prince and the other above celebrities, however, are in the majority, as the American Bar Association estimates that approximately 55% of Americans pass away without a will.  Forbes estimates that the number may be as high as approximately two out of three Americans.

The only way to insure that your intentions are respected by a Court is via a proper will or trust.  In addition and perhaps more importantly, in the absence of a will, trust or some other instrument to convey your property and indicate your intentions, the process will take much more time, more expense and may be a public proceedings.  Most important of all, if you have children under 18 or a care for a child who has special needs, in the absence of a will a Court will have to find a guardian without any guidance from you.  Furthermore, a will or trust ensures that only your appointed representative will serve in that capacity.  Finally, a will ensures that only those who you want to receive the bounty of your earnings will receive it.  Given the small amount of time and cost that needs to be invested into creating a will, it is shocking that so many people with substantial assets do not have a will.

In New York, if a person passes intestate, has no children but is married, the spouse gets all assets.  If there is no spouse but children, the children inherit everything.  If there is a spouse and children, the spouse inherits the first $50,000 as well as half of the balance and the kids receive the other half.  If there are no kids, no spouse and only siblings, the siblings receive it all.  New York follows the rule of per stirpes which means that if a child of the deceased passes prior to the deceased, that deceased’s children inherit his/her share equally.  

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