Lianne Lodge: Prince’s death highlights importance of having a will

Prince, who died at the age of 57, had not written a will. Picture: Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Prince, who died at the age of 57, had not written a will. Picture: Ethan Miller/Getty Images
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THE wrangling over Prince’s estate shows how important it is to plan for your demise, says Lianne Lodge

2016 has been a remarkable year when it comes to celebrity deaths. No sooner are we getting over one shock than we are faced by another, the latest being that of the enigmatic musician Prince.

Papers filed in the State Court of Minnesota show that Prince’s sister, Tyka Nelson, has petitioned for a special administrator to oversee the star’s estate. This is deemed to be necessary as Prince did not appear to leave a will dictating how assets should be administered following his death. Prince had eight brothers and sisters, six of whom are still alive. Of these, Tyka is the only full sibling, the rest being half siblings. So Prince’s family life was complex and the administration of his estimated £200m fortune is likely to be very turbulent and extended over many months if not years.

While it may be difficult to consider one’s own demise the fact remains that death is in front of us all. Taking the practical step of making a will not only ensures that your own wishes are adhered to but also make life that little bit easier for those who are left behind.

In Scotland where no will has been left, similar to the case of Prince, an executor would have to be appointed by the court. This may not always be the person whom you would want to deal with matters as it is usually the closest relative who, given they have recently lost a loved one, may be not be in the best position to act. There are costs associated with this process. In particular, a Bond of Caution is required, which is an insurance policy to cover the actings of an executor appointed under such circumstances.

Most people feel that their immediate family and friends would know what to do when they died, but sadly the law does not necessarily reflect the way that we live our lives today, or recognise all relationships, to allow them to carry out what they think is best.

For example if you are unmarried and living with your partner and have done for a number of years, even if you have children together, the partner will not have automatic rights to your estate. The same goes if you are not in a Civil Partnership. The bereaved partner would have to apply to the court within six months of the date of death and the court would have complete discretion as to what to allow them up to the maximum that a spouse would automatically be entitled to on death.

Furthermore if you are married or in a Civil Partnership and you die without a will then you may be surprised to learn that your partner will only automatically inherit your interest in one property up to a certain level (£473,000). This means that if you have two properties, for example a main residence and a holiday home or buy-to-let property, then your spouse would only inherit one of these. The remainder would go to your children if you had any or otherwise may pass to your siblings and parents before your spouse.

Suffice to say that life is made much more simple for those left behind when a Will is in place. Not only can it provide you with certainty that your beneficiaries will inherit, but it also means that your estate can be administered – a business maintained or rental properties managed for example – in the meantime, helping to remove one element of stress at a very difficult time.

Prince was relatively young when he died at 57 and he will leave many legacies in terms of his music. Perhaps another legacy should be that making a will is not something to put off, even if you feel your life has still some way to go.

• Lianne Lodge is an Associate with Gillespie Macandrew