Valuable Lessons from the Prince Estate

The late Prince Rogers Nelson’s estate continues to make national news. Unfortunately, the reasons for this publicity are not positive and should serve as a strong cautionary tale for anyone who does not yet have good, state-specific estate planning in place.  While Prince’s failure to plan provides many valuable lessons, I believe the following two are the most important.

First, why didn’t Prince have a last will and testament or trust agreement in place? Prince’s incredible success and net worth makes us wonder why he, of all people, didn’t have a thorough estate plan, including end-of-life documents.  Did he contemplate who he wanted to inherit his wealth and simply fail to follow through with the planning?  Did he consider benefiting a particular charity or creating a legacy to carry on his name?  Why didn’t he find a way to make sure his large collection of unreleased music could still be shared after his death? Specifically, to avoid the publicity that naturally ensued, why didn’t he create a trust to keep his personal business and his family out of the public eye?

Like most of us, Prince probably felt he was too young to plan. None of us want to face the concept of our own mortality. Prince’s early and tragic death serves as a reminder, however, that at any time, the unexpected can happen to any of us. We need to make decisions and put documents in place now that will protect our life’s achievements and provide for our family when we cannot.

At a minimum, we each should have a properly drafted and executed will that designates our beneficiaries. Without a will, the law of your state of residence will determine who receives your hard-earned assets.  Prince was not married at the time of his death, he had no children, and both of his parents were deceased. He had several siblings and half-siblings, none of whom he was close to during his lifetime. Since Prince did not leave a will specifying who would receive his estate, the probate court must now ascertain his closest blood relatives and name them the beneficiaries of Prince’s estate.  This determination, in and of itself, is likely to be messy, time-consuming, and expensive.  Without a will, the court does not have the authority to consider what Prince’s wishes may or may not have been.

Second, Prince should have had good advance directives in place.  These directives are necessary to ensure proper end-of-life medical care in accordance with a person’s unique and specific beliefs and wishes. Without advance directives, such as a living will, designation of health care surrogate, and declaration of pre-need guardian, no estate plan is complete.

A comprehensive estate plan should ensure that you and your loved ones are provided for should you become incapacitated, and should ensure that your assets pass upon your death to who you want, when you want, and in the way that you want, all while reducing the overall cost of professional fees and taxes.   Consult with a trusted and experienced estate planning attorney – put a plan in place and keep it up to date.  You will rest easier knowing that you have performed thoughtful planning for yourself and your loved ones.