Legacy or a Burden?
What comes next we can all picture; there are likely to be people coming out of the woodwork claiming some share of this fortune. Regardless of whether they have legitimate claims, it will probably tangle up the estate and his “entourage” in untold legal and administrative actions that could go on for years.
The issues reach beyond the financial. By dying without a will (a bare minimum for someone like him) this scenario also runs a high risk of fracturing relationships among his surviving circle that may not have otherwise occurred. If Prince had another twenty-four hours to revisit the potential fallout, one wonders what he might have put in place.
The fallout is where this should hit home with all of us, regardless of the size of our estate. Most of the concepts of estate planning are not about us per se but the people we leave behind. If done with intention it can be a chance to leave a legacy of values and provision rather than a burden.
My family has spent the better part of three years experiencing this firsthand. I lost my father in 2013 and my mother in 2015. I am an only child so it pretty much fell on me. I can empathize more than ever how the loss or incapacity of a loved one is consuming by itself.
Then there is the additional weight of handling the financial and legal affairs that overlap – precisely when we are most overwhelmed and have the least margin in our lives to deal with it. Like many, I already had a lot on my plate with a wife and three young children – plus my “regular” job. Right smack in the middle of this I was having some health issues of my own.
Fortunately my parents worked with their estate attorney to have complete estate plan in place long before. I am so grateful for that, and cannot fathom how I would have handled this otherwise.
This “plan” included the necessary contingencies so that at the death or incapacity of either or both, I would be able to pick up the baton and execute things fairly seamlessly. We had discussed the plan together and I had copies of all the legal and financial documents. It still took some work, but we were prepared and knew what to do.
Unfortunately the opposite scenario is too common: “Where do I start? Who do I call? Where are these documents? What does this mean?” These are the predicaments that desperately need to be avoided. If given the chance see this, most would do things differently if they realized how much stress they placed on their loved ones left behind to pick up the pieces.
The good news is we can all make a choice today to do it well. Ask yourself if you want to leave a legacy or a burden. Understandably, even with the best of intentions it is easy to put it off for another day – so getting started is often the biggest hurdle. To kick things into gear it is best to keep it simple.
A good place to start is basic organization. Create an inventory of assets, insurance policies, and location of important documents. Have a list of beneficiary designations for retirement accounts and life insurance policies, which are critical to integrate with the overall estate plan. Important: do not be the only person who has this information.
Next, just start talking about it with your family (or whoever will be a part of it). Treat it as a legacy brainstorming session. It does not have to be perfect, just paint the picture.
Third, in our professional experience, most people would be best served by engaging with competent counsel who specializes in this area. It is possible to take the DIY route, but professionals are helpful for at least two reasons. First, because they do this all the time they can help walk you through the process and make it much easier. Second, and perhaps more importantly, they can help you sidestep the big mistakes – what you don’t know you don’t know. Some of the most problematic estate plans occur when people assume it is correct when in fact it does something totally different than they intended.
If you already have an estate plan, dust it off and review it. Life changes, people change, goals change, and laws change. Your estate plan needs to be dynamic and change with it. Changes typically are quite easy because the blue print is already in place.
Unlike Prince, you have the time to determine how you want things to play out. Plan to leave a legacy, not a burden.