Over the last week, we’ve all been mourning the loss of an American Icon, the Queen of Soul, the legend herself, The ARETHA FRANKLIN. She has transformed music, culture, church hymns, and rhythm and blues as we know it.
As I await the grand ceremony for her Homegoing service tomorrow, I've been doing what everyone else has been doing all week since she passed...Googling! I've searched the grand internets to find out more about her fascinating life story and her amazing accomplishments. But as tragic and inspiring as I found her life's journey to be, I was most surprised to learn that Queen Aretha died with NO WILL.
Aretha Frank had no will or trust at the time of her death, leaving her estimated $80 million estate's future uncertain.
Ms. Franklin left this earth at 76 years old, at which she had accumulated over a million dollars per each year of her life — far more than any of us could ever expect to live up to. But in her passing it was revealed that she had left behind no plan for her fortune. Nothing! Eighty million dollars, and not even a teeny tiny baby plan! At first, shocking, right? I know, I too was quite surprised. But the question is… should we be? According to a recent survey published this summer by Caring.com, about 60% of American adults DO NOT have a will or estate plan document. So gasp all you want, Ms. Aretha was amongst the majority of us! And don't forget just a few years back, everyone's favorite music royal, Prince, also died without a will for his $300 million estate!
Although Prince and Ms. Franklin's cases are quite unusual given their extremely high net worth, there are many reasons for why people don’t have wills. The obvious reason is that you don’t think you'll die (at least not today), and though you must die at some point, that doesn’t mean you need to prep for it at this very moment. So for most of us, we are simply just putting it off. But there are also some of us who just don't care (insert Snoop Dogg quote, "I don't have a Will because I won't give a f*** when I'm dead"). Then, alas, there are some of us who probably don't really understand the implications of not having a will and how it impacts you.
Millennials in particular should know that having an estate plan is extremely important, and it's not as complicated of a process as you might think. The truth is we are not invincible, and making a plan for what happens to everything you've worked hard for (or inherited) should be standard at any age and for any level of net worth. So to get you more comfortable, here are some
misconceptions that I think we should demystify:
You don't think you're rich enough.
Wills and estate plans are for the wealthy, ultra-rich, uppity folks, right? Well, no actually, not really. It's for anyone who's ever worked hard to get something (no matter how great or small) and wants to protect it. It‘s for control freaks. It’s for anyone who likes to decide where their money gets spent, rather than having it dictated by some arbitrary law or careless people. You may not think you have enough to be concerned with, but deciding what happens to your accumulated assets when you pass on is extremely important even if it's just a few coins.
Furthermore, don't get so caught up in the cash money (shout out for the 99 and 2000s. Ok I'm childish). Not all assets are monetary. There are many material items that we possess which could be seen as extremely valuable assets within an estate. So don't only focus on those bank account figures. Estate plans are to protect your assets and make sure your wishes are followed through, whatever they may be.
You think it's a complicated legal process.
Yes, a legitimate Last Will and Testament could run you a few hundred bucks with attorney fees. But the truth is, you don't really need an "official" will. For most of us, a will doesn't need any official process for it to be legit. You can simply just write something down. Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if you could provide a last will and testament through Facebook by now (my idea, you heard it here first!). According to LegalZoom, writing a will doesn't have to cost you a dime. You hear that millennials, FREE! At the basic level, there are ways to leave specific instructions on how to deal with your estate upon your death. In most states, for a will to be valid, it only needs to be signed in front of two adult witnesses, whose signatures are also required on the document. But of course for added protection, you could get it notarized at The UPS Store for $10 bucks!
Additionally, most bank services now allow you to add beneficiaries for your bank accounts. You can designate a POD (pay upon death) beneficiary on whichever accounts you choose. See, they've made it THAT easy for you! Additionally, many 401k retirement accounts require you to have a beneficiary when you enroll.
You are young, unmarried and have no kids.
This is even MORE of a reason to have a will. I honestly can't stress this enough. If you're legally married this process is so much easier: your assets will automatically go to your surviving spouse and children. See, easy peasy. When a married person dies, the allocation is pretty much already predetermined by estate laws (unless a prenup or alternative contract exists). But if you are unwed with no children, then your other surviving relatives have claims to your monies. This could be anyone from your distant cousin Pookie or that irresponsible sibling you hate. I bring this up especially for millennials, who are more (likely than previous generations) to have alternative lifestyles with serious longtime partners we may not be legally married to. Dying without a will can be devastating for that couple (who we all know, or it may even be you): You've been living together for years, you may have a kid or two, a dog perhaps, even possibly engaged. But God forbid something were to happen, because intestacy laws only recognize relatives. So unless there is a will present which clearly states a person's intentions when they die, the partner gets nothing! The decedent's property will be divided among relatives (and this could include the home you're living in)! This could really be problematic, and unfortunately I've seen it happen.
So now that I've convinced you that there's no excuse to not have a will, where should you start? Well, start with the basics. And by basics I mean... do your research. I'm here to start the conversation, but you still need to do the work. So here are some things to consider:
Do you actually have a plan for your assets?
Do you know who are your main beneficiaries? Primary. Secondary and tertiary beneficiaries should the primary not be available?
Do you want to set money aside for a specific purpose or use (kids's school or charity)?
If you have children, think about who will be the legal guardian?
Maybe consider delegating power of attorney over your estate. Someone who will make decisions on you behalf.
Assign an executor (this is the person who carries out the wishes of your estate). This could be anyone: an accountant, an attorney, or maybe just the homie! Doesn't matter, your choice!
Consult an attorney if you want. It's never a bad idea to get a certified professional involved.
You've work hard, you've invested well, you've saved. Don't let someone or something else have the final say on where all the fruits of your labor end up. Millennials, be proactive in setting the stage for your legacy. And most importantly, to our Queen of Soul... Thank you for carving the way. May you rest in eternal peace.