The Livens Law Firm

Not having a will can create elevated charges against an estate

It is generally assumed that most people prepare wills during life for the efficient handling of their assets after death. The truth, however, is that over half of all Americans, including many in Texas, do not have wills. The situation of deceased pop star Prince is the most dramatic example recently of how the lack of a will can create havoc and elevated monetary expenses for a decedent's estate.

Virtually all wills appoint one or more persons to act as personal representatives on behalf of the decedent's estate. Without a will, someone must be appointed for this task. The next of kin is generally qualified to serve as an estate administrator, but what happens when several siblings each want to have the job or situations in which no one is available to serve?

These are matters for the probate judge to resolve. In complex situations, the court may appoint an independent administrator or trustee, as it did in Prince's estate. The star had no parents, spouse or children to serve. The court presumably determined that appointing any one of the siblings would be problematic.

The outside administrator may charge substantial fees that could have been partly avoided by the appointment of a representative in the decedent's will. Added expenses may also be caused, in this case, by proceedings to determine which purported heirs are qualified to inherit. The cost will likely also be exponentially higher due to the need to account for and administer all of the incoming royalties and commercial rights due to the artist.

Being an isolated person, it appears that Prince protected his ownership over his intellectual property very carefully. He also apparently did not partner with others who could have carried on his business after his death. The property division process, therefore, could continue for years until business solutions are created by the trustee to administer the ongoing flow of income or to otherwise dispose of assets in a manner beneficial to the estate. These issues are lessons to residents of Texas and elsewhere that make the value of having a will and other estate planning documents eminently clear.

Source: libn.com, "Where there's no will", Bernadette Starzee, May 17, 2016

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