The famed recording artist Prince died leaving an unknown fortune and possibly no will or estate plan to dictate what to do with that fortune. Prince’s sister, Tyka Nelson, told the probate court in the Minnesota county where Prince lived that her brother did not have a will, which means his estate could be in court for years and exhaust millions of dollars in court fees and unnecessary taxes. Ms. Nelson filed an emergency order for the appointment of a special administrator to protect Prince’s assets, even as those assets are swelling.
Prince owned several properties at his death as well as the rights to hundreds of songs; estimates put his estate’s value at between $100 million and $300 million. It is possible a will may still be found, but under state law, if there is no estate plan in place, Prince’s six siblings – one sister and five half siblings — will share his estate. In Minnesota, half siblings and full siblings are treated equally when it comes to inheritance.
Ironically for someone who was known for his privacy, dying intestate — without a will — also means that Prince’s estate will be open to public scrutiny. In addition, if everything passes through probate, his estate will likely face a large estate tax bill that might have been at least partially avoided.
Moreover, Prince’s estate may not be distributed as he may have wished. For example, Prince was a devout Jehovah’s Witness. If he wanted to leave anything to the church or to another charity, without a written estate plan those distributions will not be made. In the absence of clear instructions, there are likely to be lawsuits over the distribution and administration of his estate. Prince also left a number of unreleased songs that he may not have wanted made public, but without other guidance, those songs along with his entire music catalog will now be under the control of the estate administrator.
You don’t have to be worth millions to learn a lesson from Prince’s apparent mistake. The only way to ensure that your assets get distributed the way you want is to create an estate plan. Not having an estate plan can similarly cost your heirs time and money in unwanted court battles and fees. Contact your attorney to make sure your estate plan is in place and up to date.
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Saying that there has been “undue influence” is often used as a reason to contest a will or estate plan, but what does it mean?
Undue influence occurs when someone exerts pressure on an individual, causing that individual to act contrary to his or her wishes and to the benefit of the influencer or the influencer’s friends. The pressure can take the form of deception, harassment, threats, or isolation. Often the influencer separates the individual from their loved ones in order to coerce. The elderly and infirm are usually more susceptible to undue influence.
To prove a loved one was subject to undue influence in drafting an estate plan, you have to show that the loved one disposed of his or her property in a way that was unexpected under the circumstances, that he or she is susceptible to undue influence (because of illness, age, frailty, or a special relationship with the influencer), and that the person who exerted the influence had the opportunity to do so. Generally, the burden of proving undue influence is on the person asserting undue influence. However, if the alleged influencer had a fiduciary relationship with your loved one, the burden may be on the influencer to prove that there was no undue influence. People who have a fiduciary relationship can include a child, a spouse, or an agent under a power of attorney. For more information on contesting a will, go here.
When drawing up a will or estate plan, it is important to avoid even the appearance of undue influence. For example, if you are planning on leaving everything to your daughter who is also your primary caregiver, your other children may argue that your daughter took advantage of her position to influence you. To avoid the appearance of undue influence, do not involve any family members who are inheriting under your will in drafting your will. Family members should not be present when you discuss the will with your attorney or when you sign it. To be totally safe, family members shouldn’t even drive or accompany you to the attorney’s office. You can also get a formal assessment of your mental capabilities done by a medical professional before you draft estate planning documents. For more information on preventing a will contest, go here.