Prince may continue to teach us wisdom as much from his recorded music, as from his lack of planning. Here is a powerfully intelligent man, at the height of his art, who had already experienced so much in the way of negotiating contracts, navigating various income tax issues, property ownership and intellectual property rights. It appears that although Prince liked to negotiate his performance contracts on his own, he had bankers, lawyers, accountants and many other professionals in his life. How could someone with so much money, and so many professionals, not have an estate plan? Even if you have a fraction of the money that Prince had at his death, you still have an “estate”. $500 or $5 million, what’s yours is yours, and requires your instructions.
There are of course lots of “Do-it-yourself” (DIY) tools, available on the internet, that would allow any adult to craft his/her own plan. The problem is that none of us can be truly objective about our own situation. Yes, you can fill in the blanks, at a low cost, and keep your choices secret until something happens: incapacity or death. When you become incapacitated (alive, and no longer able to manage your own affairs), or you die, YOU are not the one who is going to do the work of decision making, paying the bills, or managing the money. What are you expecting others to do for you?
Your death means someone other than you will have to deal with your remains, clean out your home, gather up all of your important papers, gain authority over any and all of your financial accounts (including debt), and be trusted to make sure that everything is done the way you instructed. Oh, but you didn’t leave any instructions. And there is no order to your financial life. Are you going to be remembered as a thoughtful, generous person, or as someone who left an expensive mess? If you do leave your instructions in DIY documents, know that this often leads to court battles, since you may not know your state’s probate code (the body of law that governs transfers of property after death), and you may not have answered all the questions your successor may have.
There are attorneys who specialize in drafting estate planning documents, which might include some of hundreds of strategies designed to save money on taxes, benefit charity, and prevent loved ones from spending all of your gifts in one place. The right set of documents, signed and dated by you, can save your family grief, shock, and lots of money, even if you think you have a small estate. You matter. Make your choices matter by getting your decisions in writing.
I plan to stay tuned into the next steps for Prince’s extended family. Hopefully, between the court and the professional trustee, things will go smoothly for his family.
Marguerite C. Lorenz, CTFA, CLPF #319: