by Donald Kingett, Esq.
Most of us do not like to think about dying…and we REALLY don’t like talking about it. As humans, our most basic instinct is survival and whether or not we admit it to others or even to ourselves, there is a small part of us that believes we are immortal. Probably due to the fact that it is really difficult to picture life without “us” being in it, because…well…we’ve never experienced that. We’ve never known a life without “us” in it. But just because we have not personally experienced it, doesn’t make it any less of a certainty.
Unfortunately, besides taxation, death is the one thing we can count on. If there was ever any hope that someone was going to prove the old adage wrong, it died with him on April 21, 2016. Prince needs no introduction. An introduction would actually be an insult to his memory and your intelligence. Prince is Prince. He was, is and will forever be a legend. Legend is almost an understatement, because despite being a real person, Prince was also a mythological being. Myths and reality are, by definition, opposites, but somehow, Prince managed to simultaneously exist in both realms without becoming a contradiction.
Now, ask yourself honestly, “If Prince was not able to live forever, what chance do I have?” Let me save you some time. The answer is, “None whatsoever.” I apologize if I am the first one to tell you this, but there is a point to all of these depressing facts and that bandage needed to come off if any of this is going to sink in.
At the time of his death, Prince’s estate was estimated to be worth around 200 million dollars. However, as you may have heard, Prince died without an estate plan in place. He actually died without even having a will, which is only one part of an effective estate plan, the most basic part. And because of this, his family has been forced to spend millions of dollars in legal fees just to figure out who gets what.
I’m absolutely not trying to shame Prince. He was only 57 years old. He had more life to live and more myths to create. He was not expecting to die. His death was a tragic accident. He had not planned for the worst-case scenario because, like all of us, he was human. His life was legendary, but his death can teach us a lesson.
So, what could he have done, and more importantly, what can you do to prevent such a disaster and protect your family from predators and parasites after you are gone? For starters, you could draft a will. In its most basic form, a will is a document used for the outright distribution of an individual’s assets. However, that is the least effective type of will. Is it better than nothing? Sure, but not by much. It is also a public document, so anyone can see it. A better option would be a pour over will. A pour over will states that, when you die, your assets are going to be transferred over to a trust, which is not only more secure, it is also private.
This brings me to my next point: trusts. Let’s keep things musical to explain a few key elements of a trust by comparing it to an orchestra. You (the grantor) are the composer. You are the one in charge. You are writing and arranging the music. Your assets are the actual song compositions. Your estate plan is the sheet music. The sheet music has your songs written out the way you want them to be played. They are instructions detailing who plays what, as well as when and how they are supposed to play it. The trustee is the conductor. They are the ones in charge after you die. They use your compositions (estate planning documents) to organize, inform and distribute your assets to the designated beneficiaries, or for our purposes, the musicians.
I may be painting with overly broad strokes here, but I’m willing to bet that the vast majority of you reading this are not rock stars with several hundred million dollars in assets. Most of us aren’t. However, trusts are not just for the rich and famous and wills are not just for the elderly. Because the estate planning process is not “one size fits all.” Estate plans are extremely customizable. Depending on where you live, there are many estate planning options and elements available to you besides the ones that I have just briefly described. There is an estate plan out there for everyone that has someone that they care about.
Even though it can be a stressful topic and more than a little depressing, you will be able to save your loved ones from a great deal of financial and emotional suffering by taking the time to sit down with an experienced estate planning attorney and compose your “Swan Song” today.
***Disclaimer: This article does not constitute legal, accounting or other professional advice. Only through a personal, confidential consultation with qualified legal counsel can anyone properly evaluate their own unique Tax or estate planning challenges and determine what, if any, appropriate legal strategies and tactics should be implemented to meet those challenges.”***