When the musician Prince died April 21, he reportedly did not have a will in place, meaning his considerable assets (widely reported to be valued at $300 million) will likely be in limbo for the foreseeable future.
You can avoid a similar situation by deciding now who gets what when you die and putting it in writing so you can save your family a lot of head- and heartache.
"The law of the state where the deceased was living at the time of their death generally determines who inherits their tangible personal property when there is no will (or living trust)," Brad Wiewel, a Board Certified Texas estate-planning attorney, has written for Credit.com. "In most states, if the deceased was married, a portion of the tangible personal property will automatically go to the surviving spouse. This is generally true for an intact family."
But that wasn't the case for Prince, whose living relatives include his sister, Tyka Nelson, and five half-siblings. Those family members have been named as "interested parties" in court documents filed by Prince's sister, who's seeking a special administrator to manage her brother's estate.
"Unfortunately … in blended families, the law usually references a percentage or faction, such as one-third or one-half, and determining exactly what that fraction is can, of course, be a problem. Is it one-third of the couch? One-half of the jewelry and if so, which half? As you can see, the problems can be considerable," Wiewel wrote.
The best way to avoid these familial hassles and ensure your loved ones not only get the things you'd like them to have but also don't have to deal with turmoil on top of their grief is to have a will in place, regardless of your age or family situation.
Wiewel advises that the best option for dealing with your tangible personal property is to prepare a will or a living trust that includes a specific heirloom list and a formula for distributing things that are not on that list so that your wishes will be legally enforceable. Family harmony after a death is fragile; making your wishes crystal clear will help keep emotions under control.
Here is a simple guide to estate and inheritance planning. You can also find tips here to ensure your debt after death doesn't hurt your loved ones. And be sure to get your free annual credit reports every year so you can make sure there are no surprises on yours that might impact your family after your death. You can also get a free credit report summary every month on Credit.com to see where you stand.
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