I have written before about the sad loss that families and estates suffer when a person dies without a Will.
In August, 2018, Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, died, surprisingly, without a Will to determine how her $80 million estate would be divided. And last I heard, the drama surrounding the distribution of her estate is still going on.
But she is not the only celebrity, who probably just never got around to having a formal Will prepared.
Others are listed in this article entitled “Celebrities Who Died Without A Will.” The list of celebrities who are highlighted in this article range from Abraham Lincoln to Howard Hughes and Kurt Cobain to Prince. But one of the most noteworthy celebrities listed is the one whose memory we celebrate each January – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. For one who modeled peace, it is such a tragedy that for all the years since his death, and particularly since his wife’s death, his estate has been fraught with conflict.
The children he loved so well have been in nearly constant turmoil surrounding his estate ever since they were old enough to understand what was at stake, including disputes over the sale of Dr. King’s Nobel Prize for Peace and his personal traveling Bible. And one of the saddest things about this is that it could all have been avoided, for a very small sum and a little time. Dr. King time and energy was tied up changing the world, and he was so young when he died that it is understandable he did not get this done in time. But how much conflict his wife and children might have suffered if he had only been able to find the time.
When you don’t have a Will, as one of my colleagues puts it, the STATE writes it for you.
What that means is that, despite what you may have wanted, your estate will be divided according to the rules of intestacy (dying without a Will). And so, you may think, ok, I will just write my own Will. Unfortunately, it is not that simple. There are rules about what has to be included in a hand-written Will, which you may or may not know, and even if you write your own Will and you properly comply with every rule applicable, catastrophe can still happen. After everyone thought Aretha Franklin had NO WILL, no less than THREE handwritten Wills were later found in her home. Aretha Franklin’s once peaceable family has spent the past two years in chaos and contentious litigation, arguing over whether the hand-written Wills were even written by her and which one the Court should consider to be her Last Will and Testament.
Great emotional and financial heartache can be prevented by a little preventive and inexpensive effort.
Liz Weston, a columnist at NerdWallet, a certified financial planner and author of “Your Credit Score,” offers two different articles on how to save your family and estate from this situation, in “How To Quit Stalling and Write Your Will” and “Estate Planning: A 7-Step Checklist of the Basics.”
Because each state has its own rules about estate planning and probate, it is critical that you talk to a lawyer to make sure that you comply with what is required in your jurisdiction to have the result that you intend.
Lessons Learned From Intestate “Celebrities Who Died Without A Will” Concludes with One Big Lesson.
The one big lesson that can be learned from these intestate celebrity estates is that without a Will, a big old mess will be left behind. And in many cases, these messes can take years to be sorted out after thousands of dollars are spent in attorneys’ fees. But most importantly, these celebrity estates show that intestacy laws will dictate who gets what, as opposed to what the person would have chosen had he or she taken the time to make a Will.
Please take the time and make the small investment of preparing your Last Will and Testament with the lawyer of your choice; having a lawyer do it will give you the peace of mind that it will be done correctly and the knowledge that your estate will not have to bear the extra financial burden of not having a Will and your heirs will not have the stress of those additional proceedings at the very time they are already dealing with their grief at your loss. Do yourself, your estate and your family/heirs a favor: Get a Will done as soon as you can.