Once again, a celebrity dies, and people are shocked that he died without a will. Just this past April, after the death of the well-known artist Prince, we learned that he did not have a will, and controversy is swirling among those claiming a right to his vast estate. Some of us will remember the death of well-known businessman Howard Hughes in the 1970s. After Mr. Hughes’ death, dozens of purported "Last Wills" were presented for probate by would-be executors and beneficiaries of his large estate, resulting in many years of litigation. After Michael Jackson’s death, it was discovered that his purported will left many questions unanswered concerning the distribution of his large estate.
This is common not only among celebrities. A recent survey by USLegalWills.com indicated that 63 percent of Americans do not have a will and an additional 9 percent have an out-of-date will, meaning that 72 percent of Americans either do not have a will or do not have an up-to-date will. Add to that the number of people who have up-to-date wills that cannot be located after their deaths because they have not been placed in safe storage, or because the individual never told anyone where to locate his or her will. Stories of out-of-date wills or misplaced wills for those of us not in the spotlight generally do not get news coverage, but an out-of-date will or a will that cannot be located often results in more heartache and unfortunate and unintended consequences than if the decedent’s assets had been distributed pursuant to an updated will, which included the decedent’s choices of executors, trustees, or guardians for minor children. There may also be tax consequences that could have been avoided or benefits available to the estate that are then lost.
When was the last time you reviewed your will and other estate planning documents? We suggest a review no less than every five years as family and asset situations change and modifications occur to the income, estate and gift tax laws that could have an effect on your estate plan. Of course, if, like Prince, you do not have a will, now is the time to correct that. If you have not had an estate planning checkup in some time, we encourage you to contact us so that you will have the comfort of knowing that your loved ones are protected.