Aretha Franklin, the legendary singer, songwriter and pianist, passed away on August 16, 2018 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. The singer purportedly left no Last Will and Testament or other estate planning to address the management and distribution of her estate. The Queen of Soul leaves behind four children.
When someone dies without a Last Will and Testament, the default laws, called laws of intestacy, step in to determine how the person’s estate will be administered. For Ms. Franklin, Michigan law would provide for how her estate would be administered. However, without instruction in the form of a Will or other estate planning tool, unnecessary delay and expense may plague the administration of the estate for years to come.
It is not uncommon for individuals, even those of ultra-high net worth, to procrastinate in completing their estate plan. Discussing complicated family dynamics, incapacity, and your wishes after death can be difficult and emotional. However, a complete estate plan is one of the best gifts that can be given to a family after the loss of a loved one.
Who Needs a Will?
Everyone could benefit by planning for their future and the future of their families. Even individuals that are healthy and have modest assets can prevent undue delay and expenses at their death by creating an estate plan during their lifetime. Memorializing an individual’s wishes can often lead to fewer family disputes. Death and grief can trigger already complex family dynamics, which results in a further breakdown of familial relationships. Clear and concise instructions by way of a Last Will and Testament or Trust can allow families to focus on healing and grieving the loved one they lost, rather than fighting over assets.
What Happens When Someone Dies Without a Will?
State law in the state where the individual resided prior to death would govern the distribution of assets. For example, for Ms. Franklin’s estate, the laws of intestacy provide that her assets be distributed equally among her three children. However, we will never know if this is what Ms. Franklin would have wanted, or if there other individuals or charities that she may have wished to share her assets with. While the estate will ultimately be distributed, the assets of the estate may not be distributed in the manner in which a person would have wanted. For example, if an individual dies without a Last Will and Testament in the District of Columbia, not all of his or her assets are passed on to the surviving spouse. Rather, the surviving spouse, and the decedent’s children, and sometimes even the decedent’s parents share in his or her estate.
How Does An Estate Plan Help Me and Not Just My Beneficiaries?
Comprehensive estate plans typically also provide for incapacity planning. Such planning would allow for individual’s to be cared for during their lifetime, and help to preserve assets for care rather than costs to administer a guardianship or conservatorship proceedings.
Hopefully, Ms. Franklin’s estate is administered peacefully and without much delay so that her family can focus on moving forward after her loss. We do know that we will miss her inspiring voice as a nation moving forward.