Why Creating an Estate Plan Is So Important

On August 16th, the world mourned the passing of legendary soul singer Aretha Franklin. Franklin left the world with a rich musical legacy, but what she did not leave her family members was an estate plan, a trust, or even a simple will. This was an unfortunate oversight, because it means her four sons may have to wait years to receive what will likely be a diminished inheritance. It also means that Aretha gave up her chance to determine how her estate would be divided after her passing.

If you or a loved one have recently been diagnosed with dementia or Alzheimer’s, it’s time to learn from Franklin’s mistake and begin looking into creating an estate plan. Unfortunately, the hallmark of dementia and Alzheimer’s is a steady loss of memory. That makes it all the more urgent for an individual diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or dementia to begin preparing an estate plan as soon as possible.

Why Is a Will So Important?

A will is a legal document that allows you to name your beneficiaries and apportion your estate in the way you please. This an extremely valuable tool that gives you control over what will happen to your financial legacy after you are gone.

If you don’t have any type of estate documents at the time of your death, your estate will go to probate court. The court will assign an executor who will assess the value of your estate, pay your creditors, and then divide the remaining amount between recognized heirs according to state law.

Probate can be a grindingly slow and expensive process.

Aretha Franklin is not the only celebrity to overlook the need to create an estate plan to the detriment of her family. Another musical legend, Prince, passed away in 2016, and his family still hasn’t received a single cent from his estate, estimated to be worth $200 million!

His estate is still in probate, and the executor has already collected $5.9 million in fees and expenses and is requesting $2.9 million more! That’s over $8 million dollars that his family won’t receive when they finally receive their payouts.

Lack of Planning Causes Stress Among Family Members

You may not have an estate worth $200 million, but your legacy is still worth protecting. When a person passes away without estate planning documents, it can cause significant confusion, frustration, and even animosity between family members.

Don Wilson, the attorney for Aretha Franklin said it best in an article published on CNN, “I just hope (Franklin’s estate) doesn’t end up getting so hotly contested. Any time they don’t leave a trust or will, there always ends up being a fight.”

Even if your family members get along, relationships can be strained and loved ones may never receive a share of the estate even if you would want them to have it. For example, let’s say that Sue married John, and John has a daughter, Rebecca. Sue considered Rebecca to be like a daughter, but since Rebecca is not Sue’s biological daughter, she may not be able to inherit any of Sue’s estate if John dies before Sue.

Likewise, if you have a charity, church, university, or special cause that means a lot to you, the only way you can leave money for that organization is through a will or estate planning documents.

How to Create an Estate Plan

Thinking about death can be extremely unpleasant, especially on top of a new diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or dementia. One good perspective to take is to recognize that estate planning is not about death, it’s about the future of the people you love.

While creating a will is certainly better than nothing (and you can find many free templates online), it is far better to consider creating a full estate plan, especially if you have significant assets and/or a complex family structure.

Many families would benefit from creating a trust, which may offer some tax benefits and prevents your estate from going through probate at all. If your estate is modest and your wishes straightforward, you can create a trust through an online legal service for a nominal fee. For more complex estates, we recommend working with an attorney that specializes in estate planning. Most attorneys offer free consultation, so it won’t hurt to sit down with an attorney to understand your options and receive qualified recommendations.

Aretha Franklin and Prince each left a priceless musical legacy to the world. Unfortunately for their families, their estates are still in limbo. Don’t make the same mistake.

Are you feeling overwhelmed by a loved one’s recent diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s? If you live in Poway or the San Diego County area, we invite you to our free monthly caregiver’s support group.

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