Category Archives: Dying Without A Will

Dying intestate. Dying without a will. Intestate succession laws determine who gets your property.

Can celebrities teach us about estate planning?

be83d9254a85f218c3e112c005779b85We came across this post by John J. Scroggin, AEP, J.D., LL.M. and thought it was worth reposting.  Too many people think that things will take care of themselves…but they won’t.

“It is interesting how the common estate planning mistakes of average clients are so often replicated and exaggerated in celebrity situations. This column will discuss some of the things we can learn from high-profile celebrity estates, recognizing that our typical clients receive much less media attention and, often enough, have a few less zeros on their estate values. It is not that celebrity estates are more confounding than your average client’s estate. It’s that most celebrities have been allotted more than 15 minutes of media time, with much of it collected after they die.

Dying Without a Will

Dying without a will doesn’t damage the deceased, but it sure makes it hard on the survivors. Abraham Lincoln was shot on April 14, 1865. He died the next morning without a will despite being a skilled and successful attorney. He left an estate of $110,296.80 (the equivalent of several million dollars today).1

Prince died without a will on April 21, 2016. His estate has been estimated to be worth $300 million.2 His sister and five half-siblings initially appeared to be his only intestate heirs, until Carlin Q. Williams, a 39-year-old convicted felon being held in a maximum security prison, claimed to be the love child of Prince from a one-night-stand when Prince was a teenager.3If DNA tests had proven his relationship to Prince, Williams could have inherited 100 percent of Prince’s intestate estate.

Unfortunately, a significant number of Americans seem to be following Paul Simon’s perspective from his 1965 song Flowers Never Bend with the Rainfall: “So I’ll continue to continue to pretend that my life will never end.” The 2014 Rocket Lawyer Make-A-Will Month survey showed that 64 percent of Americans do not have a will.

Estate planning sounds as if it is for the wealthy when, in fact, it applies to everyone at every adult age (Georgia is the only state that allows a person as young as age 14 to sign a will).

In many states, each child and the surviving spouse will inherit an equal percentage (with the surviving spouse inheriting some minimum amount). If a trust is not established by a will, a minor child may be entitled to receive inherited assets by age 18, before they may be mature enough to handle the money. Ex-spouses may have control of the inheritance until the children reach adulthood.

In 1994, Kurt Cobain committed suicide at the age of 27. He left behind a detailed suicide note, but had not signed a will. Cobain’s wife and daughter were his only intestate heirs. In 2010, control of Cobain’s Right of Publicity passed to his daughter on the day she turned 18, and the next year the daughter reportedly purchased a $1.8 million home in Hollywood.

Intestacy can create messy dispositions based upon the order of death. For example, in most states, if a married couple with no descendants and no wills were injured in the same accident and one spouse survived the other by a few seconds and then died, the surviving spouse’s relatives could inherit all of the couple’s joint estate with the other spouse’s family receiving no assets.4

Professional wrestler Chris Benoit murdered his wife and son before taking his own life in 2007. In the probate hearings, the order of death became the pivotal issue for the disposition of assets. Under Georgia law, Benoit was considered to have predeceased both his wife and son.5 If the wife died first, then for the short time his son was alive, he would have inherited his mother’s and father’s assets, which would pass by intestacy at his death to Benoit’s two children from a prior marriage (as the closest living relatives of the deceased son). But if the son died first, then the wife’s closest relatives (her mother, in this case) would have inherited all the assets. Apparently the two families reached an out-of-court settlement in 2008.

Without a will, the courts will have to decide on the person(s) to manage assets for any minor children (and potentially during adulthood). Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in 1968 and died without a will. Particularly since the passing of his widow, Coretta Scott King, their children have fought over the control and benefits of his legacy and assets.

In the event of an intestate estate or the failure of all named personal representatives, state statutes generally set an order of appointment, with the surviving spouse normally being the first person to be appointed, followed by the closest blood family members. Note that the statutory appointment is by relationship, not competence. Do you really want that brother who has been bankrupt twice running the estate for your minor children?

Prince’s death without a will created an environment in which the six equal intestate heirs will control his vast music empire and the release of previously unreleased songs. None of the siblings have experience handling either his business interests or his significant estate. Recent reports indicate that conflicts are emerging among the six intestate heirs over the management of the estate.6

Many clients provide some level of support for their parents and other family members. When the client dies intestate, the surviving spouse and/or children of the deceased generally have first-priority rights to the assets. Thus, other family members who may have expected to receive continued support lose it. NFL player Steve McNair purchased a million dollar home for his mother to live in, but retained title to the residence and failed to create a will passing the house to his mother. When he died, his wife demanded that his mother pay $3,000 per month in rent. The mother moved out because she could not afford the rent. After she moved out, the estate billed her $53,363 for appliances and other items she took out of the house.7

Failing to Plan for Incapacity

Every adult of every age should plan for their incapacity.

According to the American Bar Association, only 33 percent of adult Americans have executed a medical directive. In 2000, AARP reported that only 45 percent of Americans over the age of 50 had executed a durable general power of attorney. And a 2009 Lawyers.com study reported that only 29 percent of Americans had either a medical directive or a general power of attorney.

Media mogul Sumner Redstone is one of the wealthiest people in America with an estate estimated to be over $42 billion. In 2015, a series of conflicts began over his competence and control of his estate. As the fights continued, Redstone’s granddaughter said her aunt and other family members had “succeeded in reversing decades of my grandfather’s careful estate planning and are poised to seize control of Viacom and CBS.”8

Clients may revise their dispositional documents when they are of marginal competence, and therefore, inappropriately influenced. A person who lacks the capacity to enter into a valid contract may still have the ability to sign an enforceable will.9

With a low standard for determining competence, it is generally hard to succeed in such a challenge to a testator’s competence, even when their behavior is odd or erratic. For example, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled in 1879 that “[a] man may believe himself to be the supreme ruler of the universe and nevertheless make a perfectly sensible disposition of his property, and the courts will sustain it when it appears that his mania did not dictate its provisions.”10 And the California Court of Appeals ruled: “Appellant produced evidence of forgetfulness, erratic, unstable and emotional behavior, and of suspicion, probably delusional at times, on the part of the testatrix. This is of no avail unless it were shown, as it was not, that it had direct influence on the testamentary act.”11

When a client dies, the first priority may be to change the locks to the house. Conflicts over dispositions of personal property appear to be endemic to all levels of wealth. In February 2015, The New York Times reported that Robin Williams’ widow and his three children from his two prior marriages were in conflict over the issue of how his “cherished belongings that include his clothing, collections, and personal photographs” should be passed.

Disposing of tangible personal property seems to be the most forgotten part of the average client’s estate plan. It is the author’s experience that this is single-greatest source of conflict among surviving family members.”

For more information about estate planning, check out our website www.diesmart.com.

 

Do I Really Need a Will?

last-willYes, you do.  A will is a legal document which ensures that your property is transferred according to your wishes after your death.

If you don’t have a will, here are five things that can happen.  We found this list at nerdwallet.com.

  • Spendthrift heirs – If you have heirs who aren’t equipped to handle a large sum of money, receiving it may cause damage.  Perhaps these heirs are bad at handling money or, maybe, they’re drug or alcohol addicts.
  • Unexpected or contested heirs –  There may be confusion about who the beneficiaries really are.  Sonny Bono, musician and politician, died without a will.  His ex-wife, Cher, and a man who said he was Bono’s son tried to claim part of his estate, which his wife, Mary, contested in court.  Prince’s estate is another classic example.  Many people came out of the woodwork claiming to be relatives, entitled to a piece of his assets.
  • Property (and probate) in multiple states – If you own property in more than one state, your estate will have to go thru the probate process more than one.  Probate is a costly and timely process, even if you just go through it once.  Image if you own property in four states and your heirs have to hire four attorneys and go through the whole process four times.
  • Fabricated wills – If you don’t have a real will in place, it’s possible for someone to create a fake one – especially if your estate is large.  A famous case involved the estate of tycoon Howard Hughes.  When he died, several supposed wills surfaced, and his estate spent millions of dollars defending against the false documents.
  • Beneficiaries don’t like the court appointed executor – If there’s no will, the probate court will appoint one.  It may likely be an experienced attorney but not necessarily one the family knows.  It may take a great deal of time for this person to take inventory, appraise assets and distribute the estate.  If you have a will and name a family member as executor, that person will usually do a much faster job, possibly because that person is also a beneficiary.

If you don’t have a will, you should prepare one now.  Otherwise, your assets may not be distributed the way you want them to and a lot of extra money will go to attorneys and the probate court and not to your heirs.

For more information about wills, trusts and other estate planning documents, go to www.diesmart.com.

Robert Holmes a Court’s big mistake

robert holmes a courtHis mistake is one people continue to make throughout the world.  They don’t make a will and die intestate.  About 50% of people say that they don’t have the time, don’t think they need one, don’t know how to get started, it’s too gruesome a topic to think about, they’re not going to die yet….or offer up many other excuses.

Robert Holmes a Court, who had built a $2 billion empire in Australia in the 1980’s, died suddenly at age 53 without a will.  Legend has it that he carried a will around in his briefcase for years…unsigned.  Regardless of whether this is true or not, what is a fact is that, because he did not have a valid will,  the legal wrangling to settle his estate took almost 20 years to resolve, seriously straining family relations in the process.

Two other blogs we found also discuss some of the problems that can occur if you don’t take the time to make a will.

http://www.trishparr.com/are-you-a-modern-day-scrooge/

http://www.lancasterlawblog.com/2015/10/articles/estate-planning/second-marriage-and-intestacy-dying-without-a-will/

There are two facts you can’t change:

1) You ARE going to die.

2) If you don’t have a will, the government will decide what happens to your estate.

If you have a $2 billion empire like Robert Holmes a Court, it may take you awhile to draft a will and the other documents you will need to protect your assets and ensure that they will be distributed the way you want them to be.  If you have an estate that is a little smaller, a simple will can be drawn up and executed very quickly.

Don’t let the government make important decisions about your estate for you.  Make the time and get your will prepared now.

For more information about dying intestate and will preparation, go to DieSmart.com.

Are your loved ones protected when you die?

last-will  Larry and Susan had been living together for more than 20 years.  They never legally married; they said once had been enough.  A piece of paper wouldn’t change how they felt about each other.  Larry had been married before and had two sons.  Susan had also been married previously and she had a daughter.

When Larry’s father became incapacitated, they moved into his house to take care of him.  His father, to thank them for all they’d done, left the house to Larry in his will and named Larry beneficiary of his life insurance policy.  When his father died, Larry inherited the house and Susan and Larry continued to live in the house.  Larry promised to deposit the check from the insurance company into their joint bank account as soon as it arrived.

As Larry was crossing the street on his way home from work one day, he was struck by a car driven by a drunk driver and he died almost instantly.

Larry didn’t have a will and had not left any legal document naming Susan as his heir.  They lived in a state that did not recognize common law marriage so, when he died, his sons inherited everything.  They forced Susan to move out of the house and refused to give her any of the proceeds from the life insurance policy.  In essence, Susan was left with almost nothing!

Families today are very complex.  Some are the traditional married mother and father in their first marriage.  Many more are couples who were previously married to other spouses or who are legally married gay couples.  However, many people live together without benefit of a legal ceremony. This mixture of circumstances makes inheritance much more difficult and complex.

The only way to be sure your loved ones are protected is to prepare a will or a trust naming the person(s) you want to inherit your assets when you die.  Otherwise, state law will dictate who receives what.  Not you. It’s frightening that more than half of the people living in the United States today do not have a will and have not protected their loved ones. You can find a simple will form on the internet or can meet with an estate planning attorney to discuss the options that are best for you.

Don’t be like Larry.  Act now so those you love will be protected when you’re gone. For more information about wills and estate planning, go to www.diesmart.com.

Don’t bury your head in the sand!

So you donbury head in the sand’t think you need a will?

Don’t bury your head in the sand like more than half of all Americans.  That’s the percentage of people who don’t have a will…and probably don’t think they need one.

Maybe you think you don’t have enough assets to make it worthwhile.  Perhaps you think your spouse will automatically get everything.  Or you know your children will do what’s right so you don’t have to worry about it.

Do you know who actually decides who gets what when you die if you don’t have a will?  It’s the government!  Yes, every state has laws that determine who will inherit your things if you die intestate (without a will).  Your spouse and children will have no choice and will not be part of the process.  In some states, it’s simple.  Your spouse gets everything.  In others, your spouse splits the estate with your children.  If you aren’t married or don’t have children, your parents or siblings may be the ones who get it all.  You may not want your siblings to get anything or, perhaps, you don’t want your parents to inherit.  Maybe you’d prefer that the bulk of your estate goes to charity.  Whatever your wishes, without a will, they won’t be carried out.

It’s very easy to draw up a simple will.  There are many templates on the web or forms you can fill out for less than $100.  If you have a complex estate and need to sit down with an attorney, it will cost more.  However, for less than $100, you have no excuse.

Get a will drawn up today.  Don’t let the government make the decision for you.  You decide who inherits what when you die.

For more information about wills, go to diesmart.com.