When friends, clients, and colleagues called to talk to me over the past few weeks about Prince’s sad, untimely death, I felt flush with “coolness,” until I quickly realized that no one wanted my input on his music or his many talents as a gifted performer. They were not even interested in my thoughts on his well-known acumen as a manager of his intellectual properties. No sir. I soon learned that I was “popular” because I can talk intestacy, that is, the laws promulgated by each state that control what happens to someone’s assets when they die without a Last Will and Testament.
First, they all wanted to share their disbelief that Prince had (allegedly) died intestate. But from my experience, this was not surprising. Whenever in talks I ask for a show of hands for audience members without a Will, it’s often more than half.
The top three explanations that I hear are:
- I’m too young to think about that;
- I don’t need a will, everything is going to my spouse/partner; and, perhaps the most common excuse…
- We just cannot agree on a guardian
And I do empathize, but ultimately, we just need to do this thing. We wouldn’t think of driving our cars without a spare, or boating without a life jacket or taking the stage without a stand-in. It is important to consider that if you fail to plan by writing a Last Will, then, in fact, you have decided to adopt your home state’s “plan b” for you, that is, its intestate laws. Those laws may not work as you expect and very often impose a hardship on those you leave behind.
Many of us are unaware that assumptions about our state’s intestate plan do not mirror our own. Consider, with just these two examples, how different the laws of New York and New Jersey are:
- In New Jersey, if a decedent is survived by a spouse and a parent, but no children, the estate will pass to the spouse and the parent, whereas in New York the estate would pass only to the spouse; and
- In New Jersey, if a decedent is survived by a spouse and children, and all of the couple’s children are children of that union, then the entire estate would pass to the spouse, whereas in New York, the estate would be split between the spouse and the child(ren).
Having a Last Will (and a Durable Power of Attorney, Living Will and Healthcare Proxy) helps bring peace of mind at a time when worrying about legalities should be the least of our problems.
Luckily, help with your own “plan B” is just a phone call away at (201) 488-4644.