The short answer to my question is maybe nothing, unless, like so many of us, you still have not finalized such a document. If you haven't, get on the phone with a lawyer and get it done.
The passing of Prince was a sad day, but even sadder is the fact that this week his sister just opened a probate case in Carver County, Minn., the home of the late rock star. "I do not know of the existence of a will and have no reason to believe that the decedent executed testamentary documents in any form," Tyka Nelson wrote in her filing.
Prince had no spouse or children but he does have several siblings and an estate valued at $300 million. There is also the supposed treasure trove of unreleased musical material, a sizable estate tax bill (if no estate planning was in place) and who knows what else. One thing is sure; there will be plenty of time, effort, controversy and expense necessary to resolve a settlement through probate court. All of which was unnecessary if Prince had lived long enough to read this column.
You may not have the wealth of Prince, but you do have an estate. Don't leave the courts to decide who and how much of your assets your family members will receive. If you do, you are leaving your loved ones needless expense, confusion and possibly bad feelings. That is not the kind of legacy you want to leave.
If you don't leave a will, the courts will name an executor who will oversee the settling of your estate and they charge a large fee to do so. In addition, every state has its own rules and regulations covering estates and without a will, your assets are subject to the whims of whatever state you happen to be residing in when you pass.
For the most part, many of us never drafted a will. A document like that would force us to emotionally acknowledge that someday we are going to die. What we draft in that will, after all, is final. Then there are those among us who, like Prince "thought he'd live until he was one thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine years old," according to his former attorney and close friend, Londell McMillian.
Each of your parents and/or you and your spouse should draft individual wills because your spouse may have different personal desires than you. Every nitty gritty object or item does not necessarily have to be spelled out, but rather your will should explain who receives what among your tangible property. A letter of instruction can be attached to your will outlining and identifying specific items that will go to certain individuals.
No one likes to pay lawyer's fees, but in this case I suggest you hire an attorney to help draft your will. It is imperative that the will is considered a legal document in the state where you claim residency. I would also look for a lawyer who is familiar with estate planning rather than real estate or some other area.
Not every asset you own needs to be included in the will. Life insurance policies, annuities, IRAs and other retirement plans, for example, should have had your heirs (beneficiaries) listed at the time you purchased or opened those investments. Those listed on the beneficiary statement of these investments takes precedence over anything you may direct in your will. If, for example, your insurance policy of 30 years ago lists your now-deceased parents as beneficiaries and your will states your spouse, sorry to say that your parent's estate receives the insurance money. If you haven't done it already, it would be a good idea to gather all your investment and insurance policies in one place and check that all the proper beneficiaries are in place.
In my next column, we will discuss additional tools you will need in order to pass from this world into the next without worrying about your heirs. In the meantime, take hold of your destiny today and call an estate planning attorney.
Bill Schmick is registered as an investment advisor representative and portfolio manager with Berkshire Money Management. Direct your inquiries to Bill at 1-888-232-6072 (toll free) or e-mail him at Bill@afewdollarsmore.com. Visit www.afewdollarsmore.com for more of Bill's insights.