Aretha Franklin, Queen of Soul, died August 16 at the age of 76 – without a Will. Her four sons and niece have already filed papers in Court, which means there will be public proceedings over her estate and possibly court battles, depending on who claims what. Aretha is not the first celebrity to die without a Will. Prince also died without a Will, as did Amy Winehouse. Since they died without a Will, no one knows what they would have wanted to happen to their assets. For Amy, her parents inherited her estate and her ex-husband got nothing.
Other celebrities had a Will but it wasn’t updated, like Philip Seymour Hoffman, James Gandolfini, and Heath Ledger. For example, Philip Seymour Hoffman had three children with Marianne O’Donnell but only mentioned one child in his Will. Heath Ledger did not update his Will to include Michelle Williams or their child; instead, his $20 million estate went to his parents and sisters. And James Gandolfini’s outdated Will sent $30 million of his $70 million estate to the IRS.
Unexpected celebrity deaths can make us think about what estate planning documents we have in place. Even for a normal sized estate, the hassle of probate administration and the tax implications of dying without a Will can be devastating. For most of us, a Will accomplishes what we need. You decide who gets what and who will be in charge of administering your estate. However, Wills are public documents after your death and going through probate administration can be costly and time consuming.
For some people, including Aretha, a Revocable Trust is a better way to dispose of your assets. With a Revocable Trust, you still decide who gets what and who will be in charge, but it is private. This can be advantageous for those who do not want the public knowing who benefits or does not benefit from their estate. You still have a Will when you create a Revocable Trust, but it is usually a Pour-Over Will. A Pour-Over Will says that everything you own goes into your Revocable Trust. Another advantage of a Revocable Trust is that you can change it easily at any time as your situation changes.
In all cases, you should have some sort of estate planning in place. And you should make sure it is up-to-date. Our lives change constantly – relationships change, people are born, people die, your financial status changes. Review your estate plan regularly to make sure it accurately reflects your wishes. Contact our office to create a new estate plan or update an existing one.