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Don’t Die Without a Will: Learn From Aretha!

August 23, 2018

64% of Americans die without a will. The family of the late Aretha Franklin is carrying that burden now in the midst of their grief. Learn more about why you should have a will.

We can learn a lot from Aretha Franklin. The Queen of Soul’s contributions to the music industry, the civil rights movement and women’s rights are too many to name. She taught us to practice humility, speak out against injustice, and to use our talents to their highest potential. She unknowingly taught us something else, too—and that is how important is it to leave behind a will! Franklin, who sadly passed away last week at age 76, neglected to prepare a will…don’t make the same mistake!

Why do you need a will?

A will is an indispensable part of an estate plan. Without a will, the distribution of your belongings and property post mortem will be determined by your state of residence. Setting up a will might not be a high priority for you—two big reasons many people delay this is because they feel they have plenty of time to deal with this later in their lives, or they feel that they are not wealthy enough to need a will.

While that wasn’t a problem for Aretha, who left behind an $80 million estate, many people fail to realize that a will has a purpose beyond that of monetary importance. Your will dictates who will look after your children, who will inherit your home and possessions and who is trusted with the lawful distribution of your assets.

What happens if you die without one?

When someone dies without a will it is called dying “intestate”. Without a will, your property passes to heirs designated by state law. Intestate succession aims to distribute your wealth in a manner that the average person would be comfortable with (i.e. wealth gets passed to immediate family members).

In Aretha’s case, this means that her heirs (her four children) will each get roughly $20 million from her estate (according to Michigan state law, where she resided). The executor (person who administers the process of transferring assets) will be appointed by Michigan court.

The drawback here is that sometimes this “default” method differs dramatically from what the deceased person really would have wanted. Unfortunately, no exceptions can be made when no valid will exists.

So, where should I start?

  1. Evaluate your assets- Any retirement accounts, investments, real estate interests, insurance policies, business ventures, etc. are part of your estate—Take account of everything currently in your possession and who you would like as the beneficiary of your estate.
  2. Build your estate planning team- Depending on your estate, you might need an accountant, an attorney, a life insurance agent, and a financial planner.
  3. Learn about the essential parts of an estate plan- Beyond the will, you may need a health care power of attorney, durable power of attorney and a living trust.
  4. Put together your will- Technical requirements for putting together your will vary by state, and you will want to consult an estate planning attorney. Your will has to be signed by at least two witnesses (in most states the witnesses cannot be your heirs), and you must sign and date the document. Your estate attorney can help you navigate the legal requirements in your state.
  5. Revise your plan periodically- As your life circumstances change, your post mortem wishes will likely change too. When you get married, have children, lose a loved one (potential heir), or have significant changes in assets, revisit your plan.

Dying without a will can have unintended consequences and create financial hardships or emotional strain for your loved ones.

As one of Aretha’s songs famously says, “Think!”

Take time to think about your post-mortem wishes today.

We can help you get started! Reach out to any member of KLR Wealth Management, LLC.

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