Have You Seen Prince’s Will?

Prince (Rogers Nelson) died last week (April 21, 2016). There have been endless articles about the music legend, ranging from his love of religion to how his eccentricities made him a global music phenomenon.

As a kid growing up in the 1980s, I was a Prince fan. He was such an odd character, and his music was so different, that it is hard not to feel a sense of loss from his passing.

But that’s the fan perspective. From the estate planning perspective, things are about to get very interesting. Prince’s younger sister, Tyka Nelson, said in a court filing on Tuesday (April 26, 2016), that Prince died without a Will. Ms. Nelson asked the court to appoint the St. Paul-based Bremer Bank temporary authorization over Prince’s affairs, calling the situation “an emergency.”

I personally have a hard time believing that Prince died without some Will or Trust. Prince was known to be a savvy businessperson, and the thought of his leaving his estate to the whims of Minnesota intestate law are unthinkable.

In 2015, Prince’s estate made $55 million. He owned properties in Minnesota estimated to be worth $27 million. Moreover, Prince has a massive collection of songs that he never released. Most estimates have Prince’s estate valued over $100 million, but those are early estimates. It could be worth MUCH more.

Who is going to handle all of this? Who is going to sift through all of Prince’s unreleased songs and decide which ones to release? Who is going to manage the royalties from his current songs on the radio? Who is going to manage the upkeep of his properties? How could he not have planned for this eventuality?

Under Minnesota intestate law (i.e., the default estate laws for Minnesota when there is no Will), all of Prince’s assets would be divided between his sister and his half-siblings, assuming he was not married and had no children. That’s a huge windfall for people who might not be used to vast sums of wealth, and a situation that is ripe for conflicts and lawsuits. I’ve seen people fight over $50,000 as much as they do over $500 million. And they will fight, assuming there was no plan in place for them. Prince should have created trusts for his family to protect them from themselves.

This same principle holds true for those who live in New Jersey and New York. Start asking yourself: do you have up-to-date estate documents? What will happen to your assets when you’re gone? What will happen to your intellectual property after you’re gone? Will your children inherit a windfall because you have no trusts in place to protect them from themselves?

Prince died at 57. He was young. I can’t believe he didn’t have a Will or Trust. But if the rumors and court papers are true, we could be in for a long fight ahead. Stay tuned.

If you have any estate planning questions, please feel free to call us at (908) 236-6457, or contact alec@bmcestateplanning.com.

Common Questions about New Jersey Estate Administration

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Becoming the Executor or personal representative of an estate is an important, yet often confusing, responsibility. Should a loved one or relative appoint you as Executor of their estate, you should contact an attorney. He/she can immediately alleviate much of the stress and confusion you experience as a result of your new obligation.

To further achieve that end, following are some common questions about NJ estate administration:

  • What is probate? — Probate is the legal process of validating a Will. To begin the probate process, go to the Surrogates Court with the original Will and the certificate of death. If the Will is not self-proven, one of the witnesses at the Will signing must validate the signature on the Will.
  • When do state inheritance taxes have to be paid? — In New Jersey, you must pay state inheritance taxes within eight months of the decedent’s death.
  • How can I retrieve a Will from a safety deposit box? — If you are the Executor of the Will, bring a copy of the Will with you that names you as the Executor. In some cases, a bank will allow the Executor to retrieve a Will with him or her present.
  • Do I have to serve as Executor of a will? — No, there is no law requiring you to serve as Executor of a Will. You may renounce your duty as Executor and the job will pass to the contingent executor if any exists. If there is no contingent executor, an Administrator will be appointed in accordance with the state’s intestacy laws.
  • How long does the probate process take? — The duration of the probate process depends on the complexity of the estate and the clarity and thoroughness of the Will. A vague Will may lead to a Will Contest, delaying the process further. Some large estates can take months or even years to settle.
  • What happens if there is no Will? — If no Will exists, an Administrator will be appointed to the estate and assets and property will be distributed based on New Jersey’s intestacy laws.

The job of an Executor can be daunting. Unless you have a background in law, you should not attempt the probate process alone. In the event you need help understanding estate administration in Hunterdon and Union Counties, contact Alec Borenstein, Esq., at alec@bmcestateplanning.com or call 908-236-6457.

Solemn versus Common Probate

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It’s a fact of life that people die. As individuals, we have many different personal and spiritual views on the subject. The law, on the other hand, has a rather limited perspective. When someone passes, one of the primary legal issues that arises is the disposition of their worldly possessions. These possessions collectively amount to what we call the deceased person’s “estate” and can include: homes and land, bank accounts, personal effects, vehicles and complex financial interests. The way the estate is distributed is called “administration” of the estate.

If the decedent left a last will and testament (commonly called just a “will”), the first question that arises in New Jersey estate administration is whether it is necessary to probate the will. Probate is a legal process by which a will is validated and titled property (e.g., houses and vehicles) in a persons’ estate are distributed to heirs and creditors. It is generally only necessary if the person’s estate includes titled property (usually real property like a house or vehicles such as cars, trucks or boats).

During the probate process, a court determines how to dispose of (sell) the property if necessary and who should be paid. For example, if the decedent had a mortgage on their home, the bank would have to be paid back before the heirs would receive money from the sale of the home.

In New Jersey, there are two ways that a will can be probated:

  • The first method is called “common,” or “short form,” probate. This is a relatively straightforward process where the administrator of the estate fills out a probate application form and sends it into the Surrogates Court in the county where the deceased has passed away. A date is then set by the Court, and the administrator meets with a Surrogates Court representative to review key documents and witnesses including: the will, witnesses to the will, a death certificate, a list of the items, funds and instruments that make up the estate and names and addresses of the relatives and beneficiaries. The “common” probate process is fairly straightforward and is the way most wills are probated. A New Jersey estate attorney can assist with the process and help you streamline in an effort to avoid some of the common headaches inherent in estate administration.
  • “Solemn” probate is a lot more complicated. It requires the administrator to put many people on notice — including people not named in the Will who may have a claim to the estate. It is more costly and generally requires the assistance of an attorney. Why would anyone go this route? Well, sometimes the administrator is aware of individuals who are expected to challenge the validity of the will. This situation is called a “Will contest.” In these circumstances, one or more people alleges that the will itself is invalid (e.g., a forgery or made when the deceased person was mentally deficient) or that a bequest (or lack thereof) within the will is unlawful or against public policy.

Solemn probate allows a court to settle all contests once and for all, and allows the heirs and beneficiaries of an estate to go about their business without worrying about future claims. It achieves this goal, in part, by setting a time period by which all contesters must come forward or else lose the right to challenge the will.

If you are an administrator of an estate, an heir or beneficiary, or expect to be shortly, it is prudent to contact a qualified New Jersey estate attorney who can advise of your rights and obligations and assist with you determining whether probate is needed and whether you should proceed by common or solemn probate. For experienced legal guidance in Union or Hunterdon counties, contact Alec Borenstein, Esq., at alec@bmcestateplanning.com or call 908-236-6457 today.

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