Which Celebrities Died Without a Will?
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Which Celebrities Died Without a Will?

What happens if you die without a Will? In this article, we'll provide some possible disadvantages of dying without a Will, along with examples from celebrities to learn from! Scroll down to read the full article.

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Aretha Franklin. Prince. Kurt Cobain. Chadwick Boseman. All extraordinary entertainers, but also celebrities who died intestate. Intestate is a legal term for “dying without a will,” and it happens all too frequently. Not just to legends like these but to millions of Americans dying without a will. A 2020 Gallup poll found only 46% of Americans have a will. This phenomenon isn’t new, either. Gallup found several matching reports in surveys dating back to 1990. 

There’s a valuable lesson in the importance of estate planning when you look at these celebrity deaths. With a will, you can outline your wishes for your assets and anything else you want to be followed after your death. Keep reading to learn why dying without a will isn’t the best practice and what you can learn from celebrities who did that. 

Intestate: The State Takes Over Your Affairs

Why should you create a will? Simply put, it will save your family members hours of time, headaches, and money after your death. Dying without a will means the state takes over. And that means if you die in Florida, the Sunshine State decides who gets your bank account, condo, and even your beloved cat.  

A local probate court handles your affairs when you’re intestate or die without a will. Intestate laws vary by state, and the court will follow your state’s intestate succession laws. They will decide who gets Fluffy, takes control of the bank account, and receives the keys. Laws for intestacy also dictate the order of succession or who gets what and in what order. 

Sometimes even people who aren’t family get involved in probate court. Take Prince. After Prince died without a will in April 2016, the musician had 700 people claim they were related to him. Eventually, with so many people coming out of the woodwork, a judge ordered a DNA test to prove the legitimacy of these half-sibling claims. It took six years, but the probate court and the legit heirs finally agreed on the estate’s division. 

Think of Your Family and What They Will Do

The Prince story is crazy because he was known for extraordinary discipline and control over his legal rights.  Prince waged a 10-year war against his record company, battling for artistic control and money. He signed a contract with his old nemesis, Warner Brothers, in 2014, letting him withdraw his music from streaming platforms. That choice cost him a lot of money, but for him, it was a matter of artistic integrity. As a result, when Prince died, most of his music was unavailable on any streaming platform.  

Even though Prince was vehemently against licensing his music to streaming platforms like Spotify, his family sold 42% of his rights to Primary Wave, a music management company, after his death. The deal gave Primary Wave royalties from the masters, plus the use of Prince’s name and likeness. 

Prince never wanted posthumous albums, but after he died, his family ignored that wish, releasing the album Welcome 2 America in 2021. That’s just the beginning of the unreleased recordings, though. As rumor has it, Prince had 8,000 unreleased songs, demos, and takes in his Paisley Park vault. A conservative estimate of Prince’s unleashed projects puts the possibility of releasing an album a year for 100 years.

But Prince’s friends say that the recordings he stored at his famous vault - his Paisley Park music studio - were meant to stay there unless he changed his mind. How could this happen? Because Prince, despite his meticulous knowledge of music and contract law, didn’t bother writing a will. The story of Prince’s estate teaches a lesson about why you should make a will.  

Creating a will helps with asset division and reduces the time and money your family members need to spend. A will outlines everything about your estate, including who should inherit and what. It saves your family members time and money, as they won’t have to hire someone to help them with the process. Making a will should hopefully reduce the fighting and stress your family member may encounter with your affairs.

Grieving the loss of a loved one is hard, but going through grief and puzzling over an estate could make it hard on your family members. Not to mention, sometimes family members don’t act like you expect them to. You might think your family will abide by your stated wishes but don't count on it if it’s not in a will. 

Administrators and Taxes

Creating a will lets you name who will manage your estate’s affairs. Dying without a will requires an administrator for your estate. Without knowing your wishes, the court will choose who they want as administrator. If you didn’t want your sister or your ex-husband to inherit or run your estate, too bad. You didn’t state your wishes in a will, so now the court will act as it chooses.

Another consideration for a will comes with taxes. When you die without a will, it creates complicated tax issues. States feature estate taxes, and your survivors will need to pay up, either with a division of your assets or on their own. If you have a surviving spouse with no will, they lose the right to inherit your estate without a tax. 

Family Ties

Who gets your children if you die without a will and you’re married? You may have a spouse, but what if you’re divorced? Single? A will lets you outline guardianship of your children and any conditions for inheritance. Without a will, the court decides in the child's best interest. Unfortunately, instead of your favorite cousin as a guardian, it may be your great-great Aunt Sue, who never even met your kids.

Making a will after remarrying is also vital, especially if you have stepchildren and what to make them beneficiaries of your estate. Stepchildren, unless legally adopted or specifically named in a will, have no claim to your estate. If they aren’t named in a will, stepkids aren’t recognized in states requiring you to leave your property to your children. 

Everyone Needs a Will

Even if you don’t have the fortune of Prince or other celebrities, if you have any assets, you need a will. It doesn’t matter if you “only” own a used car and a house, these are assets up for grabs after your death. Sure, they won’t have the value of Prince’s music vault, but they are still assets. A will ensures who they go to after you die and who they don’t go to as well. You can disinherit someone in your will and completely block them from your estate if you wish. 

One myth about making a will is that a handwritten will is good enough. Handwritten wills scribbled on paper, or a napkin, are called holographic wills. These wills are recognized only within specific states, with various requirements for dates and signatures. If you live within a state that doesn’t recognize holographic wills, you’re out of luck. If your state does acknowledge handwritten wills, your relatives may question the will's legitimacy. Make it official and create a witnessed, legitimate will.

Don’t Be Like the Celebs 

If you’re an adult with any assets, you need a will. Chadwick Boseman was only 43 when he died without a will. Too many people think estate planning and making a will should only occur when you’re in your late 60s or 70s, but that’s incorrect. The time to make a will is now, even if you’re under 50. 

The moral of the story is that while celebrities may promote a particular perfume or skincare product, they aren’t the best estate planners. Prince was very vocal about his need to control his music and licensed image, but he never bothered to put in his will, leaving the estate worth $156 million in disarray for six years. Worst of all, his family neglected many of his wishes. If he’d only stated his wishes and final desires for his image, music, and assets, it would be much different – and shorter – story for the Prince estate.  Learn from it, and make your own will today.

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