What Are The Lessons Of Prince’s Missing Will?

Prince, the superstar musician and artist who passed away unexpectedly last month, left along with his musical legacy a financial planning lesson: create an estate plan and make sure someone knows where it is.

As multiple media outlets are reporting, there is an ongoing search for a will or trust that would communicate Prince’s wishes for the distribution of his assets. The process could take months or even years to untangle, and cost the ultimate beneficiaries tens of thousands of dollars in unnecessary legal fees.

How could someone like Prince, worth a reported $300 million, not have some type of estate plan?  Before we go to far down that road, let’s be clear that he might, and nobody has found it yet. That possibility highlights one of the lessons we can take away from the Prince situation: tell someone about your will or other estate planning documents and where to find them.  In Texas, a properly drafted will designates an executor who will be responsible for managing the estate when the person making the will dies.  It is wise to notify the named executor of their responsibility, and where to find the will.

A complete estate plan will typically contain more than just a will.  Other documents such as durable (financial) and medical powers of attorney, designation of guardians for minor children (can be done in the will, but also in a separate document), designation of adult guardian in the event of future incapacity, a medical directive informing physicians of your wishes for end-of-life care, burial and funeral instructions as well as a list of financial accounts should all be together and placed in a safe place.  Sometimes the attorney who put together your plan can store them for you, but more often you’ll need to find a place yourself.  Safe deposit boxes are one option, and a fireproof safe kept in the home is a solid choice.  But again, someone needs to know where and how to find it when you’re gone.

Assuming Prince doesn’t have an estate plan waiting to be discovered, the original question remains of how does someone like him not have one?  The truth is that a large percentage of the population doesn’t have a will or estate plan.  Forbes cited a study recently that said 62% of people between the age of 45 and 54 do not have a will, so in this arena (if no other), Prince may be a typical American.

The flaw in the question, however, is that one doesn’t need to be a wealthy superstar for an estate plan to be important.  True you may not have millions in assets to divvy up, but most people don’t like the idea of the government making decisions for them, yet that is exactly what happens if you die without an estate plan.  Your assets will be divided up according to how the legislature saw fit; a judge will choose who cares for and raises your minor children.  Family members may be forced into difficult choices without a medical directive, or feel powerless without a medical power of attorney.  These are all easily avoidable with a well-drafted will and estate plan, and usually saves the family and beneficiaries money, headache and heartache in the long-run.

The search will continue for Prince’s will, but since he either failed to plan or simply forgot to tell someone where the plan is, we may never know a musical genius’s last wishes.

*Update 5/10/16 after the post was written but prior to publishing: media outlets are circulating a story that a man has come forward requesting a paternity test which he says would prove he is Prince’s biological son.  This is important because if no will is found, a biological child may be the sole beneficiary, which would cut out his half-siblings who up until now were the presumed beneficiaries.


photo credit: Prince R.I.P. via photopin (license)

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