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Why Is It Important Whether Prince Had a Will?

There is a lot of attention right now on the fact that the artist, Prince, did not leave a will when he passed away. Why is that news?

When any person dies without a will, the laws of the state he or she lives in controls who receives part of the person’s estate after all the person’s debts and taxes are paid. This is called intestate succession. In general, a person’s intestate estate goes, in order, to their children, spouse, parents, or siblings. It only describes numeric percentages of the estate, not specific things.

A will can direct who gets what. What percentage of the estate goes to whom. Or what specific thing should go to which specific person – often jewelry is passed to a daughter or other family member, or sports memorabilia to someone who shares the same passion. A will can also direct that an organization or foundation receive part of the estate. And a will can be part of an overall estate plan that minimizes the tax burden on the estate and leaves more for the beneficiaries.

We have heard much over the last days of how much Prince gave to people in need, often quietly and privately. We can only surmise that if he had made a will, it would have included bequests to continue this work. We can’t know for sure. But it’s likely a trust or foundation would have been set up. Such a trust or foundation would also have been set up to take advantage of tax laws and minimize the estate taxes due.

Every adult should have a will, powers of attorney for medical and financial matters, and an advance directive.

Usually a person’s spouse is named as executor or in the power of attorney documents and at least one alternate.  Divorce severs some of those designations, but not all.   It is important to talk to an attorney about updating all these documents soon after divorce, marriage, a move from one state to another, or the birth or adoption of a child.

It is an act of kindness to your family members to have these documents in place.  If there is no will, the probate process is more complicated and may be made more expensive by the need for an attorney ad litem.

Planning can help simplify things prior to your death, too. If there is no power of attorney, there may be a need for a guardianship if you become unable to make decisions or manage your affairs, which will require attorneys, an ad litem, and hearings.  And an Advance Directive can be a tremendous comfort to family members struggling with the decision whether to terminate life support in a hospital.

In a partnership in which the partners are not legally married, it is extra important to have a power of attorney to designate the person to make medical and financial decisions.  Otherwise, your partner may be shut out in favor of blood relatives.

In some cases, these documents are used to exclude someone – for example: don’t let my brother make medical decisions for me under any circumstance. A person can be specifically disinherited, too.

Each state has its own laws relating to wills, powers of attorney, and advance directives.  Documents available over the internet may not be valid in all states.  There are very specific technical details relating to how the will is signed and witnessed, and missing a tiny detail can make the will invalid. It is a much smarter choice to consult a lawyer who can advise you on the law in Texas and what will help in your specific situation, create an estfcate plan to minimize tax exposure, and preside at the signing..

It is simple and relatively inexpensive to have these documents done, and it is an act of love for your family members.  It is a more of a gift than any asset you might pass on.

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