As a Marietta GA estate planning lawyer, I always end up scratching my head when I hear that another ultra-wealthy celebrity has died without an estate plan in place. Aretha Franklin, the “Queen of Soul,” recently died of advanced pancreatic cancer without a will or trust. This means that her $80 million-dollar estate will have to go through a lengthy probate process—which could take years and cost her estate thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars.
It especially strange that she didn’t plan since she had been ill for a number of years. Franklin’s attorney, Don Wilson, lamented that he’d been after her to create a will and trust for quite some time before her death. For whatever reason, she never did.
Since Franklin died intestate (meaning, she had no will or trust) her four sons and their families will have to wait a long time to receive their inheritance while the matter goes through the normal probate process. It is also possible that her estate will be contested. Franklin’s attorney is worried about this possibility, noting that “every time [a celebrity] doesn’t leave a trust or will, there always ends up being a fight.”
Worse, her son with special needs will eventually receive his portion of Franklin’s inheritance outright when the probate process is complete. This will immediately disqualify him from receiving Medicaid benefits, which are often the only medical benefits available to individuals with disabilities. Nor will there be someone legally in charge, like a Trustee or Conservator, to help her son manage his money. His loved ones will have to go through another lengthy court process for the right to be in control.
I don’t know anything about the relationship between Franklin and her family, but all indications are that she loved her children and her grandchildren. It’s hard to believe that she wouldn’t have wanted her accumulated wealth to go smoothly and directly to her loved ones. But as things stand, there will likely be people stepping up to contest the will which will drag out the probate proceedings and rack up legal fees that will greatly reduce the $80-million-dollar inheritance she is leaving behind.
There is a lesson here for all of us. Even though most of us will never leave behind an $80-million-dollar estate, our families will still have to deal with the same expenses and delays related to probate if we die without a plan. You can make your loved one’s lives a whole lot easier simply by creating a will or trust. If you need to put a plan in place for your family, call our office at 770-425-6060 and ask to schedule a consultation.
As an East Cobb estate planning lawyer, I know the REAL reason why Prince died without a Will or Trust… and why this is likely the same reason that many folks in our area are struggling to create their estate plans as well.
Following the shocking death of Prince, folks across the country were equally shocked to learn that the musical genius died without a Will or Trust in place to deal with the distribution of his fortune and valuable music catalogue when he passed away.
Dying without a Will in his home state of Minnesota now means that Prince’s wealth will likely be distributed among his six siblings... but only after more than half likely gets distributed to his other newfound family member, Uncle Sam. Yikes!
Obviously it wasn’t a lack of money stopping Prince from creating an estate plan to protect his assets and wishes if something happened to him. He had plenty of cash and access to high-powered lawyers in his own home state and across the country.
So what was the problem?
Well, according to a new report from TMZ, Prince was afraid to work with an attorney to get his affairs in order.
He bounced from advisor to advisor and professional to professional out of fear of being taken advantage of.
He didn’t want to subject himself to misguided information.
And, he feared becoming preyed upon by professionals with ulterior motives.
Before you write Prince off as crazy paranoid, believe it or not, this is exactly what stops average families from getting their affairs in order, too.
Maybe they don’t have millions of dollars in the bank and an impressive music catalogue like Prince did, but they hold on tightly (and rightfully, so) to the money and assets they do have… much of which they’ve worked hard for decades to acquire.
It’s only natural, then, that when faced with a crisis such as a medical illness, incapacity, the blending of a family, a divorce, a lawsuit, whatever, a general fear tends to rise up in folks that the attorneys they are meeting with to help them create a plan to protect their assets and families might be taking advantage of them or simply don’t have their best interest in mind.
Perhaps they have sticker shock at the basic cost of a Will or Trust. Or, they may feel like the attorney or advisor is just preying on them during a weak moment in their life.
In any of these scenarios, what ends up happening when someone has these feelings is that they freeze from the fear and end up doing NOTHING. Just like Prince.
As an East Cobb estate planning attorney, I’m not going to say that these fears are unfounded. There are bad eggs in every bunch, including attorneys and financial advisors.
But the fallout of not protecting your family with a proper estate plan does not outweigh the risk and fear of being taken for a ride! If you want to be certain that everything you’ve worked so hard for actually goes to your loved ones, and not the government when you are gone, you’ve got to plan.
If you want to make sure your kids are raised by only the people YOU WANT if you unexpectedly pass away, you’ve got to plan.
If you desire to keep your life’s work safe from nursing homes, creditors, predators, lawsuits and divorce, YOU’VE GOT TO HAVE A PLAN.
You even need a plan to ensure your medical wishes are honored as you want. Here’s another area that Prince likely dropped the ball.
As a Jehovah’s Witness, he was opposed to any form of blood transfusion. But, did he have that legally documented? Because if he did not, and was incapacitated in the hospital for any length of time, his next-of-kin sister might have decided to go ahead with a transfusion. And it would have been perfectly legal, even though it was against everything he believed in.
I hope I’ve made it clear that you NEED to have an estate plan. Every adult does. It’s not an option.
And, the good news is that you can take proactive steps now to AVOID being taken advantage of or sold products or services that you really don’t need by an attorney or other type of financial advisor.
The key is to start your planning BEFORE a crisis strikes.
My best advice would be to start interviewing attorneys and local professionals while you are still healthy and have the mental capacity to make your wishes known. Your end-goal should be to compile a team of advisors that you know, like and trust to support you and your family during all of life’s transitions.
Don’t be afraid to compare services, compare costs (note: cheaper does NOT always mean better in this area) and even compare office procedures for each attorney. Ask tough questions like:
- How do you bill? Is it hourly or on a flat fee basis? Will I get a bill for every phone call, email or fax to the office?
- What happens if I call two years later with questions about my estate plan? How will you accommodate me?
- How do you ensure that my plan continues to work as my life and the law changes through the years (if you don’t keep your documents updated, they won’t work!)
- What happens if you close your office, or die? What happens to my file?
- Will you coordinate the planning efforts we are embarking on with my other advisors so everyone is on the same page?
- How do you handle updates to my plan in the future?
- What happens if my goals or circumstances in my life change? What if I get sick or move into a nursing home? Are there trigger provisions that will allow us to deal with a crisis in my plan?
- How will you support my family if/ when I pass away?
If you take the time to find a professional that can answer these questions to your satisfaction, that has as great reputation and is someone that you seem to “jive with”before there is a crisis in your life, you will feel much more confident and secure to lean on that professional during trying times that may arise in the future.
Sadly, Prince did not follow through in this area, but you can.
Begin to build your team of advisors, right now… at this stage of your life. It doesn’t matter how much money you have, whether you are young or old, if you have kids or not. Start to build your “A” team. Make it your goal to spare your family from the court costs, taxes, public scrutiny and fighting they would otherwise face if something happened to you.
Take your time to do “meet and greets” and interviews with area advisors. Go to every free workshop that is offered in your area to find that person that you connect with.
And, once you feel comfortable with your team, make the plan. Legally protect your assets, your family, and make your wishes known. Don’t ever let fear stop you from doing the right thing by your loved ones when you can start NOW to take concrete steps that mitigate any risk or loss of control.
You are worth it, and so is your family. Let this be the real legacy (beyond the music) that Prince leaves behind to you and your loved ones today. Call us, your friendly neighborhood East Cobb estate planning attorneys, at 770-425-6060 and let us help you create your plan.