Dying Intestate or Without a Will: A Lesson from Prince
As many know, legendary music icon Prince died recently leaving no will. In legal terms, Prince died intestate. When someone dies intestate, a probate court takes over administration of the decedent’s estate and distribution of assets.
Because Prince left no surviving spouse, no children, and no parents, Prince’s sister petitioned the probate court in Minnesota to appoint a special administrator to deal with Prince’s estate, widely reported as worth $300 million.
Besides his full sister, he is survived by half-brothers and half-sisters, whom the petition names as “interested parties” to the Prince estate.
The petition states that Prince owned a “homestead, other real estate, cash, securities” and “substantial assets consisting of personal and real property that requires protection.” He “owned and controlled business interests that require ongoing management and supervision.” And he “has heirs whose identities and addresses need to be determined.”
The petition said “an emergency exists to the extent that the appointment should be made without notice because immediate action and decisions need to be made to continue the ongoing management and supervision of Decedent’s business interests; and because the names and addresses of all interested parties are currently unknown.”
When there is no will, state laws on inheritance prevail. In Minnesota, for instance, half-siblings are treated the same as full siblings for the purposes of inheritance.
One would have expected Prince to have a will or other estate plan, given his teams of lawyers, business managers and accountants over the years who would have advised him it was crucial in his situation. Not every situation requires an expensive estate plan, but many require some thinking and planning ahead, as this New York Times article aptly notes: New York Times
So what is the lesson learned? It is a good idea to have a Will, especially if you don’t want what the state’s intestacy laws would otherwise dictate for you or your family.
If you die without a Will, the people who inherit may not be those you want receiving your money or personal property. This includes remote relatives with whom you have not communicated in years. If the Public Administrator is appointed to administer the estate, they may auction or dispose of your intimate personal property, and your family or close friends may miss the opportunity to receive, or pass on, items you would want them to have. Moreover, charitable bequests are not made by a Public Administrator, so if estranged family is not who you would want to receive your assets, proper planning is necessary.
If you die without a Will in Colorado, your estate passes under Colorado intestacy laws. Heirs may become involved in lengthy and costly legal proceedings to prove their relationships before they can inherit. The Court may appoint a “Guardian ad Litem” for “unknown” persons. This Guardian ad Litem, along with the Public Administrator, will receive a fee from your estate. If heirs cannot prove their relationship with the Decedent to the Court, the estate may be paid to the State of Colorado.
Having a Will may ensure those you select inherit from you, reduce expenses, and expedite handling of your estate. It also allows you to nominate a Personal Representative (formerly known as an Executor), who is responsible for collecting your assets and delivering them to your beneficiaries. With the right Personal Representative, the administration of your estate may move more quickly.
Finally, if you already have a Will and haven’t reviewed it in over five years, now may be the time to do so — to ensure your current wishes are carried out. If you have any questions about drafting a Will or revising an existing Will, please contact SLBTW.