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Life with Gracie: Let Prince’s mistake be our wake-up call

(This column published Thursday, June 16, 2016, shortly after news broke that Prince died without a will.)Starting with his cause of death a week or so ago, every day seems to bring more bad news about Prince, not the least of which is the fact that an ever-increasing number of his family members and wannabes still don’t know for sure if the pop icon left behind a will.

And so rather than providing a clear plan for dividing his assets among loved ones, the late pop icon may have committed what legal experts call the worst estate planning sin of all time: no will.

Sin might sound harsh and even inappropriate, but creating a will is so simple and accessible nowadays, attorney Hillel L. Presser said, that failing to do so is essentially ceding all decision making to the state, which may or may not act in accordance with your wishes or desires when you die.

“Consciously or otherwise, some people simply do not deal well with addressing after-death legacy,” said Presser, whose Florida law firm specializes in comprehensive asset protection like wills. “I have no idea whether Prince had some other principle at work, but the lack of a will clearly lays the burden on the living.”

Confronting death in this way can be as scary as writing one’s own obituary.

My husband and I were both approaching our 50s when we finally saw an attorney to draw up our documents. Our daughters were both in college.

The only excuse I have is we just didn’t want to deal with it. There was something so uncomfortable and final about the entire process. Having a will, though, affords us a bit more peace. I sleep a little easier, but I also know Jimmy and I need to go one step further and have the talk with our daughters.

Hearing the Prince dilemma, I felt a little smug, but I also felt sad for his survivors.

So much seems up in the air. The only thing that is certain at this point is he was married and divorced twice and was known to have only one son, Gregory Nelson, who died of a rare genetic disorder one week after birth.

Nearly two months have passed since Prince’s death at his Paisley Park estate from an opioid overdose, and since that time, people have been coming out of the woodwork claiming to have some relational tie to him.

A court hearing in early May to determine the fate of the musician’s estate — including the contents of a secret vault the musician left behind at Paisley Park — concluded with a special administrator appointed and determined that all possible heirs have been reached and given the opportunity to be included in the petition filed by Prince’s sister, Tyka Nelson.

Earlier this month, a South Carolina man who claims he was Prince’s adopted son said there is in fact a will and he’s owed $7 million.

Under Minnesota law, because Prince died without a will, and because his parents are deceased and he has no spouse, his estate would first pass to any surviving children who can prove they are his offspring. If their claims fail, the estate would be divided among the singer’s full and half-siblings, provided they can prove a direct relationship.

So you can see how Prince’s neglect or ours for that matter can create legal fights for decades in a family.

Celebrities have a lot of money and other properties, so most of us can understand perhaps why they might need a will, but we ordinary folk need one, too.

“Many people mistakenly believe that their belongings pass regardless of whether you have a will, but a person who dies intestate (without having a will) is at risk of having their estate incur significant taxes and may even pass to beneficiaries that were never intended to receive them,” Presser said.

Death is stressful enough for the people we leave behind. But with just basic planning and a will, Presser said you’re not only communicating your final wishes, you’re making the process less stressful for your beneficiaries when that time comes.

The best first step is to see an estate specialist, such as an attorney, because errors, mistakes or inconsistencies in your will can create large legal and financial headaches for your beneficiaries.
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In general, Presser said a will should include a detailed distribution of assets and property, a list of specific gifts you would like to make from your estate, as well as designation of the person you would like to represent your estate upon your death.

“Any estate planning attorney should be well equipped to prepare a will,” Presser said.

Additional basic information about wills and trusts can be found on his firm’s website:

Take a look and then do something. Let Prince’s mistake be your wake-up call.

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