It has recently been reported that the legendary singer, Aretha Franklin, died without a will or a trust. How do we know? Frankin's niece filed a petition with the probate court in Michigan seeking to be appointed as personal representative and indicating that there is no will. In Michigan and every other state (including Minnesota), probate is public record. Soon, the type, size, and value of Franklin's assets and debts will be filed with the court and accessible by the public.
When a person dies without a will, any assets that they have that are subject to probate are subject to distribution under the laws of intestacy. Generally, that means your assets will be distributed to your spouse if you have a surviving spouse. If you have no spouse, the assets are distributed to your children and any descendants of a deceased child. If you have no spouse and no children, your assets are distributed to your parents if living and to your siblings if not living. In cases of a second marriage where either spouse has his or her own children, the surviving spouse is entitled to the first $225,000 plus one-half of the remaining assets of the estate under Minnesota law.
Needless to say, the laws of intestate succession do not fit well with every situation. At best, the laws of intestate succession are a shorthand solution for dividing the assets of a person's estate. However, it leaves the estate subject to distribution in a manner over which you have no control. You do not get to choose who you want to administer your estate as executor and personal representative. You do not get to choose the appropriate age at which your heirs should receive their full inheritance. You do not have any control over what your surviving spouse, children, or other heirs choose to do with your assets - which become their inheritance and, therefore, part of their respective estates. You also do not have any control over what becomes public record.
Franklin's attorney reportedly said he was after her for years to put a trust in place. As he said, "It would have expedited things and kept them out of probate, and kept things private." The best case scenario now is that Franklin's children are able to agree on the administration of the estate and her estate does not become a hotly contested and expensive public dispute.
Giving careful consideration to estate planning matters is not always an easy thing to do. It requires us to confront our concerns about our children and other family, evaluate our financial circumstances, and accept our own mortality. However, with thoughtful and practical guidance from an experienced estate planning attorney, the process can be much simpler. By being proactive about your estate plan, you can ensure your assets are distributed in a manner that aligns with your values and protects your privacy and family.
To discuss your estate plan with one of our attorneys, give us a call at (507) 288-5567. You can also book an initial consultation online at www.wardoehler.com/book-online.
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