Last week the world said goodbye to one of its musical legends, the incomparable Aretha Franklin. Just days after her funeral, reports began surfacing that she had in fact died without leaving a last will (called dying ‘intestate’). In this respect, she joins a surprisingly long list of celebrities who have died without a will including Michael Jackson, Prince, and Jimi Hendrix, just to name a few.
Whenever we hear of yet another celebrity dying without a will, we are reminded that the importance of having a will cannot be overstated. And so we take this opportunity to once again reiterate some of the many reasons why you should ensure you have a valid, up to date will.
If asked, most of us would likely say that, first and foremost, we want to leave our affairs as simple as possible for our loved ones to deal with. Generally speaking, it is fair to say that in most circumstances the process of settling an estate is much simpler if the deceased leaves a Will. Not having a Will often translates into increased delays in handling the estate. For example, no one will be able to handle the deceased’s affairs until the Court has appointed someone to be the ‘Estate Trustee Without a Will’ (also known as the ‘executor’ or ‘administrator’). This means that no one will have the authority to deal with any of the deceased’s assets, including a house, bank account, or car, until the appointment of an executor.
No Say In Distribution
Arguably, we would also likely want to have some say in how our estate is distributed. Where someone dies without a Will, their estate is distributed according to the applicable intestate succession law. This means that someone who the deceased may not want to have benefited from their estate could end up receiving something and someone who the deceased did want to benefit may receive nothing. For example, in Ontario, if the deceased was separated but not divorced and had not signed a separation agreement, their separated spouse would inherit from their estate. On the other hand, if the deceased had left a common law spouse, they would receive nothing other than possibly having a claim for support.
The absence of a Will almost always leads to additional expenses which the estate must bear. This results in less being available for the beneficiaries. Not having a Will also increases the possibility of disputes arising among those who may have an interest in the estate. For example, who should apply to act as the executor may become a contentious issue among family members.
Don’t follow in the path of those many celebrities who have died without having a will. Work with an experienced professional who can help you create an estate plan that will provide in the best way possible for your loved ones.