Jun 30

“Who Cares If I Have a Will? I’ll Be Dead!”

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Actually, I am paraphrasing what rapper Snoop Dogg actually said. An interviewer asked him whether he had a will following the revelation that Prince died intestate, which means he died without having a will. Snoop Dogg used more colorful language to describe his feelings, including frequent use of the “F” word when he said he hopes to be reincarnated as a butterfly and come back to watch his family fight over his money.

Well, as much fun as that sounds like for Snoop, it does his family no favors. While we have no control over the unfortunate fact that we are all going to die someday, we can and should take the time to arrange how our affairs are handled after we are gone. We do not make estate plans for ourselves, but for the people we expect to leave behind. Doing so, as far as I am concerned, is as much an act of love for our family as it is a practical necessity.

So, what if you aren’t convinced? What if, like Snoop, you could give a you-know-what about having an estate plan because it will not directly affect you? Well, consider the myriad of ugly things that could very well happen if you check out of this world without an effective estate plan in place.

There is a great probability that there will be some fighting amongst the family. Someone is going to claim that they knew what your intentions were, while others will disagree, and the then the fighting begins. For example, maybe you were quietly paying your son’s student loans. You die, and now your son tells the rest of the kids what you were doing and that you told him that you intended to pay off his loans. How do you think the other siblings are going to react? What are the chances that someone will call him a liar, which will make subsequent family Thanksgiving dinners very testy? Some of these disputes can take years, cost lots of lawyer fees, and regardless of how they are ultimately resolved, the chances are great that someone will hold a grudge for years, or even decades afterwards.

What happens if you give an expensive family heirloom to one of your kids before you die, and the siblings then have to figure out how to divide the rest of the estate? Do they subtract the value of the item from their share? How do they know what to do? This creates yet another scenario for a possible dispute between the family members. What if you wanted that heirloom to remain in the family? Without a proper writing, your heir can do what they want with it, including selling it so they can buy themselves that red sports car they have been craving.

If you die intestate, then the laws of intestacy will apply, and your estate will be divided accordingly. (See my earlier blog post, “Who Needs an Estate Plan?” to see what the law is in Wisconsin.) That may work OK, but what if you were divorced and later remarry? Under the intestate law in Wisconsin, your second spouse receives everything, which could really upset your kids from your first marriage. Then, when he or she dies, their estate would pass to their family, thus cutting out your children from your first marriage altogether. Is that what you want?

Some other bad things can happen if you do not have an estate plan. For example, if you did not leave any instructions behind regarding your faithful dog, chances are Scout could end up in a shelter if none of your family steps up to care for him. In addition, if you did not leave behind a letter describing what kind of funeral you want, your family may end up enduring through some maudlin memorial instead of the party where your friends and family tell funny stories about you that you actually wanted.

I hope by now that you understand that while it may be unpleasant to think about, the bottom line is that you should seriously consider leaving an estate plan for your loved ones to follow. They will thank you for it, and you can go to your rest knowing that you took as good care of your family in death as you did while living. So, with all due respect to Snoop, take care of your business, Dog. That way, if you do come back as a butterfly, your kids will not chase you around with a fly swatter.

Alf Langan

Solo practitioner attorney since 1991 based in Green Bay, Wisconsin, specializing in estate planning, family law, and criminal defense. B.A. from Northwestern University: J.D. from St. Louis University School of Law. Licensed to practice in Wisconsin, Illinois, U.S. Tax Court, U.S. Federal District Court (E.D., Wisconsin).