I'm a Prince fan. Not one who only knows all his popular hits but one who owns nearly all of his albums. I actually am a generational fan because my father, a former DJ, was listening to Prince and attending his concerts before I was born (and surely while I was in utero). That being said, I was born into this. Naturally, I was devastated to learn of his death last April. Friends and family sent text messages to warn me before I saw it in the news and I cried because I lost a friend. His music was the soundtrack of my life and I always felt as if I knew him. The biggest letdown was that I would never get to cross meeting him off of my bucket list.
The real devastation, however, came a little later when it was widely reported that Prince died without a will. For me, that was almost as shocking as his death. How could a massive talent and shrewd businessman neglect to protect his hard-earned assets acquired over nearly four decades? It truly hit home for me because I am an attorney, by trade. My preferred areas of practice: estate planning and probate. I spend most of my days educating family, friends and the general public about the importance of estate planning. I evangelize almost daily about the vital nature of life insurance and the lack of planning involved in gofundme.com financed funerals. This is my crusade.
A popular assumption that I encounter is that only the rich need an estate plan or bother to create one. Last April, Prince made that assumption much weaker. Some statistics report that 65% of Americans (across every income level) have an estate plan. It boggles my mind how anyone with an estimated $100-300 million estate would not legally protect it. According to the Carver County District Court, his asset inventory lists a dozen properties with a combined estimated value of $25.4 million, $110,000 in four bank accounts, unclaimed property, capital credits and cash as well as 67 10-ounce gold bars worth nearly $840,000. His companies had more than $6 million in cash on hand at the time of his death. NPG Records has an estimated $6.8 million in arbitration receivable. I can't even begin to wonder what the value of his personal effects (jewelry, clothing, instruments, vehicles, furniture, etc.) might be.
There is not even a clear determination of who all of his heirs are that are entitled to take these assets.
This news made me more discouraged. It's hard enough trying to get the "average person" to understand why they need a plan. This becomes even harder when we see that some wealthy people are not even convinced. This reinforces the notion of our shared humanity but perhaps there is a silver lining. I have to believe there is. People can use the example of Prince's life to distinguish themselves and make better decisions.
First of all, most of us do not live on sprawling properties that keep us isolated and disconnected from other people. We have families. We work. We freely go out in public. Usually, when we think of our lives, we cannot exclude the other people who matter to us: our parents, children, siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews. It is my belief that most people do care about the peace of mind as well as the legal and financial safety and security of their loved ones. I also have to believe that it is no one's wish to create even more chaos for their family during the time of grief involved with losing someone they love.
Therefore, I must continue on with my crusade and shift the perspective of estate planning. It may not be the sexiest topic, but it most certainly is one of the most important discussions to have to create a positive impact on the legacies that we leave behind. My hope is that most strive to create a legacy of care, responsibility and a solid foundation for future generations.
Melinda B. Powers, Esq. is an attorney in Jacksonville, Florida, who is passionate about educating the community on the importance of estate planning. She is a graduate of Florida A & M University and Wayne State University Law School. Find out more about Melinda at www.powerslg.com.