To demonstrate the best reason to create a good estate plan, one need only look at what happens to estates after a person passes away without one. There is perhaps no better such cautionary tale today than the continuing saga of the Prince estate and the probate litigation surrounding it.
When the musician and entertainer died unexpectedly at his Minnesota home last year, he did not leave behind a valid will. This meant that a probate court would have to decide how to distribute Prince's estate, which, according to analysts, could be worth $300 million.
Prince, who was born Prince Rogers Nelson, was unmarried and had no surviving children. Under state law, his fortune would therefore go to his sister and five half-siblings. However, dozens of other people filed legal claims to the estate. Five of these claimants said that the late John Lewis Nelson, the man who was legally recognized as Prince's father, was not actually his father, and that they were previously unrecognized half-siblings of the music star.
A district court ruled that John Lewis Nelson was, in fact, Prince's father, and that decision was recently upheld by an appeals court judge.
As with Texas state law, the laws of Prince's home state provide that the estate of a person who dies without a valid will must be distributed according to pre-existing guidelines. Known as the laws of intestate succession, these guidelines essentially follow the deceased person's family tree and distribute the person's assets to the closest living family members.
The result can be wildly different from what the deceased would have wanted, and it can cause serious legal conflict within a family. This type of dispute is the source of a great deal of probate litigation.
Perhaps needless to say, emotions can get very heated in litigation over the estate of a deceased loved one. It is important to have help from a skilled lawyer with experience in probate litigation and a deep understanding of the legal and emotional issues involved.