music star Prince apparently died without writing a
will, and itís likely that his relatives and business
contacts will be fighting in a Minnesota court for years
over his estate, estimated at $150 million to $300
no wife or children, first in line, according to estate
law, are Princeís five siblings. Under simple court
rules governing inheritances when there is no will, each
of the siblings will get an equal share. That will apply
whether Prince was fond of each of the siblings or not.
And with Princeís complex estate, massive business
dealings, his practice of secrecy and millions in wealth
at stake, attorneys donít expect this case to
culminate quickly or simply.
ironic," said Avi Kestenbaum, a New York estate
planning attorney with Meltzer Lippe. "Prince, at
age 57, spent 37 years making his legacy. He fought the
music industry for control, and now he has no
a lesson for other people, whether rich or poor, famous
or regular. When you die without a will, you get no say.
If you hated a relative, your children might end up in
that personís care. If you divorced and forgot to take
a previous spouseís name off an account or insurance
policy, your new spouse or children might not benefit.
If you have a business, and children with no interest in
it and no business savvy get control, the value of your
lifeís work could be destroyed.
a death, if thereís no will, a house with both spousesí
names on it will go to the surviving spouse. But in an
era of multiple marriages and divorces, inheritances get
sloppy. Consider a father with grown children who have
sweet memories of the home where they were raised. With
no will, a second wife could inherit the house and give
it to her own children from her previous marriage,
leaving out the children who were raised in that house,
notes estate planning attorney Adam Damero, of
the other hand, estate planning attorneys recall
instances in which second wives have been left homeless
because a husband died without updating an old will to
incorporate a second wife. In an old will, he leaves his
home and everything else to his children.
kids kick the woman out of her own house," said
situations where everyone gets along, the children might
ignore the will and let the woman stay in the home. But
in some families not everyone gets along, Damero said.
court canít guess what might have been in a personís
head, but certain rules apply when there is no will: If
a person has a spouse and children, the estate is
divided half to the spouse and half to the children. If
there are only children, the estate is divided equally
among them. If there are no children, siblings come next
and inherit an equal share of the wealth.
people donít write wills because they assume they are
young and have plenty of time. Yet Prince was only 57
years old. Many people also do not want to think about
dying, or worry about giving up control, said Kestenbaum.
They say: "Iíll be dead anyway. Why should I
the Prince case illustrates one reason to care: His
siblings now could be targets of people trying to
exercise business interests that are not favorable to
them, and even if the siblings got along well the
pressures can divide them.
attorneys say that they often see families torn apart as
they deal with the division of property and control
after a death. "The most fights occur where there
is a business or real estate that is given to children
equally," said Kestenbaum. "How do you run a
restaurant with four chefs in the kitchen?" he
said. "So maybe you leave a business to one child
and insurance to another."
should revisit the will every few years because as time
passes, one asset can gain value a lot while another
Kotzer, a Toronto attorney, takes preparations for the
family even further in his book: "The Family Fight:
Planning to Avoid It."
years of working with wills, Kotzer noted that many
grown children end up in feuds because parents failed to
talk with their children about wills while still alive.
Conversations can suggest better ways of dividing
possessions. One problem Kotzer noted was that one grown
child might have memories of playing a piano in the
family home, while the child who is to be given the
piano in a will might have a spouse that doesnít want
the instrument cluttering their house.