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Where There's a Will...There's a Way

It has recently come to light that Aretha Franklin died without a will, and her family is now embroiled in court proceedings over her assets. Her estate will be particularly complex due to ongoing earnings from song royalties, making it virtually impossible for the court to estimate the long-term value of the estate when determining an appropriate distribution.

If Ms Franklin had a valid will, there’d be a faster, and cheaper, resolution of her estate. Ms Franklin would have been able to state whom she wanted to have control of, and benefit from, her estate. In Michigan, the law provides that if an unmarried person with children dies without a will, the assets are to be equally divided between those children. Under this law, Ms Franklin’s estate would pass to her four children, which may not be an accurate reflection of her wishes, particularly since she also had a partner whom she may have wanted to benefit.

NSW has an equivalent law in place, called the “Succession Act”. This Act defines who will inherit your assets if you die without a will (called dying “intestate”) depending on your family structure. For example, if someone dies leaving a spouse and children from that relationship, the spouse receives the whole estate. If there is a spouse and a child from a previous relationship, the spouse receives the deceased’s personal effects, a $350,000 legacy (CPI indexed) and 50% of the remainder of the estate, while the children equally share the remaining 50% of the estate.

As you can see, by not having a will, the state decides who your assets are distributed to, which may not be an accurate reflection of your wishes.

Prioritise your estate planning and avoid lengthy delays, expense and confusion over who is to receive your assets. This article is not legal advice, and the views and comments are of a general nature only.

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