Will you or will you not?


By David B. Whitlock - Contributing columnist



How could someone with the assets of Prince NOT have a will?

A judge has determined that Prince did not have a will and that his estate, estimated to be in the neighborhood of $350 million, will be distributed among his heirs, which would be in his case, his brothers and sisters.

And it’s not just the percentage of the estate portioned to each heir that matters in this instance, it’s what to do with what’s in it, all the music memorabilia and special items related to them, not to mention his music that’s yet to be published. And what about the hundreds of millions of dollars Prince has from record companies and concert venues? It’s complicated, to say the least.

Even with a will, it still might have been an heir’s nightmare and a lawyer’s delight. But without one? Reports indicate Prince’s siblings are already locked in a bitter feud over the estate. One can only imagine the legal fees.

The Chicago Tribune quotes one estate planning attorney, Avi Kestenbaum, of New York, as saying, “It’s ironic, Prince, at age 57, spent 37 years making his legacy. He fought the music industry for control, and now he has no control.”

Which brings me back to my original question: How could someone with the assets of Prince not have a will?

Many people just don’t want to think about it. Deciding what will happen to what you’ve left upon your demise is unpleasant, and it takes time from the precious things you enjoy doing while you have time to live, activities like golfing, or fishing, or making money doing what you love to do.

And people often assume they have many more years to live, and so they procrastinate the process of preparing a will.

But Prince’s case underscores the importance of having a will, for when you don’t, you are allowing someone else, most likely someone you don’t know, to decide what happens with what you have left behind.

Estate planning attorneys have stories about the surviving relatives who auctioned items that the deceased deeply wanted to stay within the family. Worse are the stories about the second wife who gets kicked out of her own home by children of the first wife because of an outdated will or not having a will at all.

Take time to make provisions for what will happen with what you have.

One way to avoid the dread of formulating a will is to think of the positive that can come from it.

I still think of the dear soul in my church who several years ago left a considerable sum to the church. Though absent from the flesh, her love continues to pervade the ministries of our church.

She is not alone; others have left provisions in their will for the church. Some people have left a specific dollar amount while others have left a percentage of their estate to the church.

And if you want, you can leave a portion to the church only if others named in your will are not living at the time of your death.

I say this not simply because I’m a minister in the church; too often, I have seen survivors fight over what someone worked a lifetime to earn, and I’ve thought, “How much more fruitful it could have been for the church or a charity to have benefited over a portion of that estate.”

I know what you might be thinking: “I’m far from Prince. My little bit won’t make a difference.”

But it can. As someone said, “It’s not what you would do with millions should that be your lot; it’s what you do with the dollar and a quarter you’ve got.”

And it doesn’t take much to make a positive difference, or for relatives to fight over it.

I had rather think of the positive that can come from whatever is left behind.

I read about a 10-year-old boy who watched his great granddad planting an apple tree in their backyard. His grandad had recently been diagnosed with a terminal illness and wasn’t expected to live long. The boy asked his great grandad why he was planting a tree he might not be around to enjoy. His great grandad answered, “Son, all my life I have eaten the fruit from trees that other people have planted. I figure it’s time I make sure there is some fruit around for others to enjoy after I’m gone.”

Others will no doubt enjoy what Prince left behind. But sadly, they may be throwing rotten apples at each other during the process.

A little planning can not only avoid the fight, but it can also make the fruit that’s left all the more enjoyable, and the sweet taste can last longer, too.

By David B. Whitlock

Contributing columnist

Reach Contact David B. Whitlock at drdavid@davidbwhitlock.com.

Reach Contact David B. Whitlock at drdavid@davidbwhitlock.com.

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