Be kind to your family – make a will

Did you know most Americans do not have a will? Let’s bring this home. Do you? If you don’t, you are in good company.

“Prince” by NorthfotoBP

The most recent high-profile example of a person dying intestate (without a will) is singer-songwriter Prince, who passed away in April at age 57 with nothing found (so far) that specifies what to do with his estimated $100-$300 million in assets. Prince is joined by many other well-known figures who also left no directives, including billionaire Howard Hughes, Martin Luther King Jr. and even America’s most beloved president, Abraham Lincoln, himself a lawyer.

Estate planners say as many as 70% of Americans die without a will. Others put the number closer to 55%. Either way — this is not good news.

What’s so bad about it?

Without a will, trouble is sure to follow.

Wills aren’t just for people with lots of money (a common misconception). They are for everyone who wants to have a say in where their property or assets go or who will take care of their non-adult children.

Without a will, the state gets to decide. Not you.

Never mind that the last thing you’d want is for your children to live with your estranged brother who has anger problems. The state doesn’t know that. And as next of kin, he is a logical choice. Or how about your house? Or that sweet car you tend like a baby? Your 401(k)? You probably have some ideas about how you would like your stuff distributed. But without a will, you have lost any chance to voice your wishes. All power reverts to the state, each one having its own laws. Talk about a mess. This could be downright scary.

And we’re not done yet. Throw potential claimants in the mix. Somehow the possibility of inheritance tends to draw out the fight in people. For whatever reason, people will fight tooth and nail for what they believe to be rightfully (or even wrongfully) theirs. The potential for long, expensive court battles (not to mention fractured relationships) is real.

Messy endings

Reportedly, Howard Hughes’ massive estate was eventually inherited by 22 intestate heirs after a handwritten will was declared a forgery in 1978. Martin Luther King Jr.’s family is still battling over control of his estate some 48 years after his death. Fortunately, Abraham Lincoln had a Supreme Court Justice as a personal friend who stepped in to help settle his estate. But who has that?

What will happen with Prince’s estate remains to be seen. While he was unmarried and had no known children, he had a huge music legacy which he cared about deeply. What would he have wanted? Unless a will or trust is found, it won’t matter and the future of that legacy will rest with Minnesota state law. How sad.

None of the people mentioned here knew they were going to die when they did. Most likely, you won’t know either. The question is, are you ready? Are your wishes made known in a will or trust — or will you let the state decide?

Avoid a mess and give your family and loved ones the gift of a lifetime.

Make a will.

Advisory services are offered by Joslin Capital Advisors, LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor.

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