Once upon a time, there was a very talented, but nameless, Prince. He built a fabulous empire, filled with creativity, raspberry berets, song and dance, and it was worth a fortune. A $260 million fortune, to be precise.
And the Queen – oh the Queen, how well she could sing! The Queen was a natural woman, filled with soul, and gave generously to improve civil rights, to her church, and to bring music to the people. She had R-E-S-P-E-C-T from everyone. In the end, after her lifetime of generosity, her kingdom was worth $90 million.
While their music has now fallen silent, their kingdoms are filled with noise and strife, and much warfare. And do you know why? Neither the Queen, nor Prince had made plans for succession. They both died without a will.
As you have probably guessed, the Queen (of Soul) in our oh-so-true fairy tale, is Aretha Franklin, who died in the last few weeks. The Prince is, of course, Prince (or the artist formerly known as Prince). Or, legally, Prince Robert Nelson, one of the most creative songwriters in modern pop history and a well-known performer. The battle for Prince’s estate is already a thing of legend, in which 45 people came forward to demand a piece of the kingdom, and time will tell how messy things will be for Aretha Franklin’s estate.
Both were phenomenal artists, the best in their fields. One of my favourite cartoons in the last few months was Aretha Franklin being welcomed to the pearly gates by musical royalty: Elvis (The King), Michael Jackson (Prince of Pop), Prince, Duke Ellington and Count Basie. It was a touching and brilliant tribute, one that especially resonated with me as a former professional musician. (I’ll also admit to being more than a little misty-eyed: I found out later in life that my mom and her best friend had spent a week hanging out with Duke Ellington in the 60s, and had no idea who he was. But that’s a story for another newsletter.)
Aside from being phenomenal musicians, both Aretha Franklin and Prince shared a major failure: They died without a will or, in legal terms, “died intestate.” As a result, much grief and battling is occurring over their respective estates.
What happens to their estates will be determined by the intestacy laws where they died, as well as where they held property. As you can imagine, that makes things complicated.
Here in Ontario, if you die without a will, the Public Guardian and Trustee (PGT) of the Province of Ontario will represent your estate – whether you had $10 to your name, or $100 million. Relatives may petition to take over as estate trustee, but only do so on the authority given by the PGT. No matter what, your estate will be distributed by a formula, which you can find here: https://www.attorneygeneral.jus.gov.on.ca/english/family/pgt/heirclaim.php
Things can get messy though, if you own assets in different jurisdictions – it’s possible your estate can be subject to other province’s (or country’s!) rules as well. Needless to say, costs (and family grief) can add up quickly.
An old will is problematic too
I can’t emphasize how important it is to update your will. One of the most important things to know is that, in Ontario, your will is invalidated upon marriage – but not separation or divorce.
Even if your marriage situation is stable, it’s quite likely you’ve had major changes in your life over the last 5 years. If so, pull out your will, dust it off, and revise if necessary. And remember, being an executor or estate trustee is a big job – make sure the person you named is up to it, and try to have multiple backups. You can’t know for certain that the person you named will be willing or able when the time comes.
And please, please, please, get a qualified estate lawyer to draft your will – it’s worth spending a tiny bit more to ensure your estate is not tied up in legal costs. I once worked with a family where a badly worded will resulted in more than $125,000 in legal costs, all of which had to be paid from the estate – effectively leaving beneficiaries with nothing. An estate specialist can anticipate many problems that non-specialists would not think to address in your situation.
Remember to support your favourite causes
More than 80% of us donate to charity in our lifetime – but only 4% do so at death. From a tax planning scenario, giving at death is often hugely effective. I always like to say that you can give to three places at death: family, charity and tax. Pick any two you like.
Remember the tale of the queen and prince
So, give your heirs some Respect, Say a Little Prayer, and this Manic Monday, put on your Raspberry Beret and go see your lawyer. I Feel for You in wanting to procrastinate, but Nothing Compares 2 U when you break the Chain of Fools, so that When Doves Cry, there will be no Controversy for your kingdom.
I have at least two more paragraphs of song titles I want to end with, but U Got the Look that you will go Daydreaming if I continue.
Enjoy yourself this fall, and put on a few of these great tunes to celebrate the lives of these two remarkable musicians.