Regardless of Size of Estate, Wills are Vital to Property Succession

The late music icon Prince certainly isn’t the most famous person to have died without a will and has an estate greater than their debts. Howard Hughes, Jimi Hendrix and Pablo Picasso are among those that also died with substantial estates but no wills. Prince’s lack of a formalized, up-to-date estate plan indicates that the entertainer was much more like the rest of us than we might have ever expected. By some estimates, more than 60 percent of Americans may not have a recognized will. However, Dallas estate planning attorney Sam Long of Shackelford, Bowen, McKinley & Norton, LLP says those estimates are misleading since everyone arguably already has a will. The question, Mr. Long says, is whether someone has their own or the state drafts it for them,” as seems to be the case with Prince.

If you choose the latter route by default, then the resulting beneficiaries and fiduciaries under state laws are not always as one would intend or assume, says Mr. Long, who also serves as an adjunct professor of wills, trusts and estates at the UNT-Dallas College of Law. Having no will also can cause additional expense and complexity, and sometimes a greater tax burden on heirs that could have been prevented with some planning. For many people, private wealth now is passed along by beneficiary designations on IRAs, life insurance policies, multiple-party bank accounts, living trusts and/or other forms of ‘nontestamentary transfers.’ But wills still play a vital role in the succession of property at death.

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