Late musician Prince, known as an artist and world-renowned pop star, remarkably did not have a last will and testament — an all too familiar situation advisers face every day.
Prince was among the six in 10 Americans who fail to create a will before dying. Whether it's a sense of denial or procrastination, some advisers say a surprising number of clients just won't budge when it comes to writing a will. As a financial planner, this may be frustrating, since without such an estate document, clients' assets may be dispersed against the wishes of the client due to lack of planning. In fact, many experts say all clients, regardless of age, should have a will, and review it every three to five years.
“It is a responsible thing for everyone in our business to make sure clients have a will,” said Ed Butowsky, managing partner of Chapwood Capital Investment Management. “Having that discussion always lets the client know that you actually really care about them and their families, versus just getting their money under management.”
Still, advisers cannot force a client to create a will, in which case they can really only rely on occasionally bringing it up for discussion, providing examples of real-life cases without a will and documenting the fact that they tried to work with clients on one. They can remind clients that there are numerous consequences for not having a will, including who becomes the administrator, who inherits the assets and in what manner they receive them, said Lawrence Lehmann, estate planning attorney with Lehmann Norman & Marcus in New Orleans, and president of National Association of Estate Planners and Councils.
If no will is created, the state in which the client resides can end up determining all of these factors.
Prince's estate is currently being managed by a trust company, as per the request of his sister, who said she did not know of any existence of a will and testament, according to court documents.
Prince, who died on April 21 in his Minnesota home, did not have a spouse — he had been divorced twice — nor children or any surviving parents. He does have one sister and five half-siblings, who could end up dividing the inheritance, many news reports have claimed.
The amount of his assets is still unknown, according to his sister's petition. His sister wrote that the appointment of a special administrator was necessary because no personal representative had been appointed and there were substantial assets that needed protection. She also noted business interests that required ongoing supervision.
According to a 2014 Rocket Lawyer survey, 64% of Americans do not have a will — 55% of Americans with children do not have one. When asked why, 57% said “they just haven't gotten around to making one,” 22% said a will is not urgent and 17% said they don't think they need one.
There is no known reason yet as to why Prince did not have a will, but for many others, it's simply procrastination, said Josh Rubenstein, national head of Trusts and Estates practice at Katten Muchin Rosenman.
“People do not like to confront their mortality,” Mr. Rubenstein said.
Jim Saulnier, a financial adviser and founder of his firm in Fort Collins, Colo., saw this first hand with his best friend, who was diagnosed with terminal cancer. For months, his friend did not want to work on estate documents, but Mr. Saulnier was able to get him to sign a basic will before his passing.
“I think he didn't want to do a will and estate plan because it meant confronting that he would pass,” he said.
Mr. Saulnier said he hopes sharing his personal and professional stories will help push clients in the right direction. He is also bringing an attorney in-house, so that clients don't have to go too far to find someone with whom they can work. It garners better results than handing over a business card, he said.
Lazetta Rainey Braxton, founder of Financial Fountains in Baltimore, said when a client insists on not having a will, the adviser needs to honor those wishes, but they should document the consequences for the client. If possible, they may also want to consider bringing in family members, with the client's permission, to have a discussion.
Clients also consider wills to be permanent, so they hold off on writing anything until they have all of the answers to important questions, including what shares of the money to give to different parties. In this case, Mr. Rubenstein suggests advisers discuss a temporary will, which includes an executor and who gets what upon the client's death.
It's better than going on without a will, he said.
“The problem with estate planning is you don't think of it until it's too late,” Mr. Saulnier said.