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When There’s No Will, A Probate Court Decides

MP900387513The death of pop star and music legend Prince has left many people grieving. Weeks later, he is still in the news, people are still playing his music, his album sales have skyrocketed, and there is talk of a trove of unreleased music. The musician’s surprising death at 57 without a will also means that his legitimate heirs may be in court sorting out his estate for years to come.

In an article entitled, “You may not have Prince’s ‘Pop Life’ – but you should have a will,” The Washington Post financial columnist Barry Ritholtz commented, “Given his long-standing battle against his record labels for control of his intellectual property rights, as well as a phalanx of managers, lawyers and accountants, the lack of a will is a baffling oversight.”

Wealthy or not, you need a will. Many people figure that since they are not wealthy, it doesn’t matter if they have a will or not but of course this is not the case. The people you love may struggle to pay expenses and claim what you want them to have if you don’t leave instructions.

It may not be the ideal but you can use inexpensive legal internet services or software to create a will. However, these kinds of wills may not be suited for complicated situations (such as multiple marriages), in which a lawyer’s advice would be more beneficial.

There are plenty of other considerations beyond a basic will. For example, did you know that you can designate investment accounts as “transfer on death?” This means that an investment account can bypass probate court and be transferred to a beneficiary. The transferred money is still subject to estate taxes but making this designation is free.

No matter how much money you have (or don’t have) if you die without a will, Ritholz writes that “… you are deferring to a probate court the right to distribute your assets.”

While it is still possible that a will may appear, people have already started to make their claims on Prince’s estimated $500 million estate. The court has to investigate (and cannot immediately throw out) these claims, even the most outlandish ones, and that will lengthen the process.