Where There’s a Will…

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Aretha Franklin, Prince, Amy Winehouse, Sonny Bono, Barry White, Jimi Hendrix, even Pablo Picasso: each of these renowned artists amassed millions in riches over their lifetimes—and each died without a will or living trust.

Unfortunately, this particular problem is widespread. Surveys routinely find that only 40-45% of Americans actually have a will or living trust detailing the division of their assets and outlining other wishes.

You may think you don’t need a will, if you’re not worth tens of millions. But consider this: If you don’t leave a will or living trust, state law will sort out who gets what—and the process can be rife with conflicting claims from family and other complications that make life harder for those you leave behind.

The Benefits of Having a Will

Even for those who have a more modest legacy, there are still considerable benefits to having a will:

  • Less conflict among loved ones. By putting your wishes in writing, you are potentially saving your loved ones from conflict on top of grief. Family battles that take place during an already fraught mourning period could even inflict irreparable damage to relationships. Jimi Hendrix’s siblings continue to face each other in legal battles after one inherited control of his estate from Hendrix’s father, who controlled the estate until his own death in 2002.
  • Ensure your wishes are upheld. Don’t assume that everyone has heard and will remember your wishes. Particularly if you have a special situation to plan for, such as in Aretha Franklin’s case of having a special-needs son, it’s imperative that you put your wishes in writing.
  • Fewer estate expenses. Conflicting claims on your assets could lead to things like extensive legal costs to the estate and to loved ones. Picasso’s $600 million estate reportedly cost $30 million to settle.
  • Assets could go to heirs faster. If a court has to intervene to identify and divide your assets, the process is sure to take longer than if you have it clearly communicated in a will or living trust. Prince’s estate has been tangled in Minnesota courts for more than two years.

Admittedly, seven-plus-figure estates tend to have higher stakes than average, and in the case of the famous artists listed here, some of the family trees were complicated. But the reality is that most people understand the benefits to their own families of making a will. Yet, they put it off for emotional reasons. Contemplating the end of life is particularly difficult for some, while others don’t want to wade into murky waters of sorting through already-complicated family wishes.

Ultimately, writing a will is a gift you give to your survivors—and may provide you with peace of mind at the same time.

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