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About That Will?

Legal Issues You Need to Address

When singer, songwriter, and music icon Prince died at age fifty-seven, people were shocked to discover that he apparently had never made a will. To the surprise of many, unless Prince had created a trust or some other estate planning tool which no one knows about, the performer who friends and colleagues agreed was a thoughtful planner, left it for the government to deal with his entire estate. Instead of his wishes being followed, the courts will take charge of how his estate is handled, and who receives what from the fortune he amassed during his storied career. For lack of planning, he loses his chance to have things set up as he wants, and has complicated financial matters for the important people he left behind.

How could this happen to a man who, by all accounts, was attentive to his own business matters? Perhaps, Prince was no different than the rest of us. We know people can die at any age and suddenly, but think, That’s not going to happen to me. Or perhaps, he had that natural feeling of just not wanting to contemplate death or disability, and therefore did nothing. He certainly was surrounded by enough lawyers and business people
to advise him that he should take care of these things.

If there is anything to learn from Prince’s death, it is that no one is immune. Smart people put a plan in place, and update the plan as things change, because they know that death or disability can come at any time, with no warning. These matters are too important to be left to chance.

Everyone (no matter how young or how healthy) should have at least three basic documents: a will, a financial power of attorney, and an advance medical directive. For some, a trust may also be important. These documents should address what happens if you become disabled or pass away. Anyone with young children should name a guardian and someone to manage any inheritance for children who are minors or too inexperienced to handle such finances themselves. Do you have a child with special needs? These parents should be even more concerned about having the right legal documents established.

Not only should you have your own documents in place, but if your parents are older, you may need to talk with them and encourage them to have a proper plan for the possibility of death or disability. If your parents have never done their planning, have outdated planning, or have moved from another state, they need to talk with an estate or elder law attorney to make sure they have the proper plan and documents, or to update what they already have as required.

Preparing a will is a way of taking care of the people you treasure by making it easier for them when you die. But, it’s not only about dying. Having a financial power of attorney and advanced medical directives are important for you while you are living. They make it easier for your loved ones to help in case you become disabled.

Estates can be simple or complicated, but getting help from an attorney is not difficult and does not have to be overly expensive. You don’t have to know what to ask or exactly what plan you want. A knowledgeable attorney can help you figure things out. Whether your estate is large or small, keep things simple and make arrangements to avoid disputes, unnecessary complications, and unintended consequences. Make an appointment with an estate planning or elder law attorney. Do this for yourself and your loved ones. Please don’t leave it to chance.


Phoebe P. Hall is an elder law, estate planning, and family law attorney who has been practicing law since 1969. She is CEO of Hall & Hall, PLC and sits on the board of visitors for Virginia Commonwealth University. A Richmond resident, she has two children and three granddaughters.
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