What Prince’s Death Teaches Us About Having a Will

There has been an abundance of media speculation surrounding the unexpected death of music legend Prince, who died April 21 at 57, apparently without a will.  Unless a will surfaces, the question of who will inherit the $300-million estate will likely be dragged out in court for months or even years and may never reflect the singer/songwriter’s values.  So what is it that keeps so many people, 55 per cent of Americans, from drafting a simple will?

Perhaps by putting end-of-life wishes onto paper, our own mortality cannot be denied.  It can’t just be laziness; there are a multitude of ways to draw up a will including online services.  Many seniors centers also offer free will tutorials for older adults.

Consider what happens if you don’t have a will.  We believe our family and friends will divide up our remaining possessions, property and assets equally and fairly but that rarely happens.  Too often estates without a guiding will end up being fought out it in a lengthy and costly legal process.  And without a will, bad blood between siblings or other family members can bubble up and permanently harm relationships.  A clear and concise will can prevent family discord.

Each state or province has slightly different inheritance laws and without a legal will, strange things can happen.  Most people believe your entire estate will be passed on to your spouse, however, that is not always the case.  For example; in Ontario if you have a spouse and more than one child, the spouse gets a third of the estate plus the first $200,000, with the remainder divided between the children.  If there are no relatives, the estate will go to the government.  Common-law spouses are especially vulnerable and unless they can prove a claim of dependence in court, can wind up with nothing.

Wills can protect the ones you love not only from waging war during a period of grief but also allowing individuals to made important decisions about when children will receive an inheritance, include friends or charities in the beneficiaries or appoint a guardian for minor children.   It’s important to check for changes in estate planning laws in your home state or province which online will kits may not include.

And don’t forget that a will can also address your funeral and burial wishes as well as end-of-life care.  Even a simple will outlining what should become of your assets in the event of your death is better than nothing.  To learn more about wills and estate planning in Canada visit the Government of Canada at http://www.seniors.gc.ca/eng/working/fptf/willandfuneral.shtml.