When Prince died on Thursday April 21, 2016, he left behind a music legacy and larger than life memories, but no will. What can authors learn from Prince about the importance of a will? Given that Prince was tenacious about maintaining control over his work during his life, it’s ironic that he didn’t put plans in place for what happens to his estate after his death.
I asked my friend, Vickie Schumacher, author of Understanding Living Trusts®, to help us understand if it’s important for authors to create a will.
How common is it for authors and others artists to die without a will?
The recent revelation that Prince died without a will reminds us that he is just like us. Studies continue to cite that more than 55% of adult Americans do not have a will or estate plan. Many people, authors among them, procrastinate about estate planning. They think they are too busy, or that they don’t own enough, or that they’re not old enough, or they’re confused and don’t know what to do or who can help them.
What happens when we die without a will?
If you don’t do anything and die owning assets in your own name, the probate court will take control of your assets, pay your debts and distribute your assets to your next of kin according to the laws in your state. (You may have noticed that Prince’s sister just opened a probate in his home state of Minnesota.) If you die without a will, you will have no say over who receives your assets. In many states, if you are married and have children, each will receive a share of your assets, and your spouse may not receive enough to live on.
Most states allow for the inheritance of property only by bloodline, so an unmarried partner, companion, special friend or favorite charity would not receive anything. (Sorry, Prince’s entourage.) Also, if you have minor children, the court will control their inheritances and will appoint their guardian without knowing whom you would have chosen.
What can heirs to an estate expect when there is no will?
Probate is not free. It is a public process, invites unfamiliar heirs to come forward, and can easily take more than a year. If you do not have a will, it can be expensive and time consuming to look for your heirs. All costs are paid from your assets and if no heirs are found, the state in which you live will become your heir.
I’ve heard we should have a trust instead of a will. What’s the difference?
Having a will does let you state whom you want to receive your assets, but a will must go through probate to be validated and enforced. Also, a will provides no protection at incapacity because it cannot go into effect until you die. Avoiding court interference at death (probate) and incapacity (conservatorship or guardianship) are two main reasons why so many people prefer a revocable living trust instead of a will in their estate planning.
When should we begin estate planning?
Now, while you are able. Put a plan in place and then update it as your circumstances change. Death is a certainty for all of us; we just don’t know how long we have. Prince, remember, was just 57.
Most authors don’t have large estates. What size estate requires a will and trust?
There’s no magic number. Given the choice, most people would like to spare their loved ones from the entire probate process. Also, probate costs take a larger percentage of smaller estates, which can least afford it, than from larger ones.
Authors should make sure they include their works and any copyrights and trademarks in their estate planning. Consider not only who would receive continuing revenue from sales, but also who will manage your portfolio of work. Like Prince, you may continue to earn considerable revenue from your work product long after you are gone
Authors create written work for a living. Creating a trust ensures that YOU decide who gets your assets, not the court. Don’t neglect this important written work. Vickie is available to help you better understand estate planning through her book, interviews, and blog. Visit her website www.livingtrust.com/ for details.
Share in the Comments your thoughts on creating a will and/or a trust. Do you think that estate planning is only for the very wealthy? What thoughts or experiences have you had in this regard?