Recent court filings relating to the recent death of legendary soul musician Aretha Franklin have revealed that she died without having written a will. This occurred in spite of having a multi-million dollar estate and having been urged by those close to her to write a will for years. Unfortunately, this is not a rare occurrence—many other celebrities, including Prince, Michael Jackson, and Amy Winehouse, died without any estate plan to determine how their vast wealth would be distributed. It is even more common that people with smaller estates forego writing a will. In both cases, this inevitably results in serious negative consequences.
Not only is the deceased individual unable to determine how his or her assets will be divided, but the process of distributing the assets of an individual who died without a will (known legally as intestate probate) is also more expensive, time-consuming, and increases probability of court battles than dying with a will. When icons pass away, we are reminded of the importance of planning. Thankfully, with a bit of planning ahead, these negative consequences can be avoided.
Protecting Your Legacy
The main reason to have a will is to determine how your assets will be divided upon your death. In Texas, if you die without a will, your assets will be divided according to the Texas Estates Code. There are many ways by which the Code will determine how your assets are divided, depending on the structure of your family. Typically, assets will be divided among living relatives—most commonly to your spouse and your children, but potentially to your parents and siblings as well. In the rare event that you have no living relatives, your assets can even pass to the State of Texas.
Having a will allows you to bypass this standard succession in almost any way you see fit. This can prevent situations where probate laws do not line up with your own interests. When Amy Winehouse died, for example, her nearly five million dollar estate passed entirely to her parents, with whom she had a very poor relationship. It is rumored that her brother and her ex-husband would have been her preferred beneficiaries had her wishes been set out in a will, but neither received a cent due to intestate probate laws. Had she drafted a will, the laws that control testate probate (the legal terminology for probate proceedings for someone who died with a will), she could have given her estate to anyone she chose.
If, for example, you wish to grant everything you have to your surviving spouse, you may do so via a will. You could also decide to have your assets protected by a trust benefitting a child rather than giving those assets directly to a child. Even if your desires closely match what would occur if you died intestate, you can use a will to make specific bequests of certain family heirlooms or other items that you want to give to a specific person.
Simplifying the Probate Process
A less commonly considered benefit of having a will is the simplification of the probate process that occurs after your death. When a loved one dies, the last thing people want is to have to deal with long, drawn-out court proceedings to determine how their assets will be divided. By writing a will, the process by which the courts divide the estate of the deceased will be much quicker, cheaper, and straightforward. Having a will also vastly decreases the chance that someone will contest the estate, which will exponentially increase the time and money spent in probate court.
In many cases, there are also ways in which wills, trusts, and other estate planning documents can be used to more effectively transfer assets to the next generation. While this is of obvious importance to more wealthy individuals (the unexpected death of Prince, for example, is estimated to have cost his estate more than 30 million dollars in lost revenue), everyone can benefit financially from proper estate planning to some extent. In addition to the savings that come from simplifying the probate process, there are often tax benefits that come with proper estate planning, even for smaller estates.
Peace of Mind
Despite good intentions and best efforts, people sometimes die unexpectedly. Writing a will as soon as possible not only prevents the possibility of dying intestate, but allows you to plan carefully and thoroughly, rather than having to hastily throw everything together at the last minute. Having an estate plan in place can give you peace of mind, knowing that you have done everything you can to ensure that your legacy is protected and your loved ones are provided for.
We Can Help
Ensuring that your loved ones are taken care of after your death is important for everyone, not just the rich and the famous. Putting an estate plan that protects your family and legacy into place is easier and more affordable than most people think. At Bailey Law Firm, we have attorneys with the experience in estate planning that is required to make sure that your wishes are fulfilled after you are gone. To meet with our attorneys to discuss any aspect of estate planning, please contact us with any questions by clicking here or by calling our office at 832.510.2900 to schedule a complimentary consultation.