Tony Hsieh, the former CEO of Zappos, died at 46 due to smoke inhalation from a house fire over the Thanksgiving holiday. Several months before, Hsieh retired from his position as CEO of Zappos with an estimated net worth of $840 million. Since his death, his family has determined he died intestate, meaning he had no will. His family has filed for access to the former CEO’s accounts and assets in response.
In August of 2020, “Black Panther” star Chadwick Boseman lost his battle with colon cancer - Boseman also died intestate. His wife has since had to file paperwork in probate court to gain access to his estate, which has an estimated value of about $938,500.
The moral of the story? No matter how much one has, no one is immune to an untimely death. And while you may not have a net worth of $840 million, your assets are still significant and require proper planning.
In simple terms, if you die without a will, the state will essentially make one for you. This means your estate passes through something called intestate succession. The purpose of intestate succession is to have one’s assets passed on to their heirs as they (meaning a normal, reasonable person) likely would have wanted. Of course, this requires assumptions on behalf of the estate that may not always be accurate.
Each state will differ in how intestate succession proceeds, but one’s close relatives would commonly be granted assets first. Close relatives could include a surviving spouse, descendants (children or grandchildren), parents, siblings, nephews and nieces, grandparents, etc.
Who Should Have a Will?
Only 44 percent of Americans have a will. While that number alone is troubling, here’s the kicker: that number has declined in recent years. In 2005, around 51 percent of Americans reported having a will. It should come as no surprise that most will-holders were older Americans. And while that’s understandable, the hard truth is - anyone can die at any age. Remember - both Hsieh and Boseman were only in their forties when they passed.
Whether it’s a couple thousand or a couple million in the bank, everybody should have a will. A will lets others know how you would like your belongings cared for and distributed after your passing. Without one, there’s a much higher chance that your assets end up in the hands of those you may not have wanted them to - and cost your surviving loved one's unnecessary time, hassle, and legal fees.
What Happens When You Die Without a Will?
While proportionately more high-net-worth people have wills than those with low-to-moderate income levels, that doesn’t mean millionaires and billionaires are always prepared. High-profile high-earners like Aretha Franklin, Prince, Jimi Hendrix, and Pablo Picasso all died without a proper will. For many, this left their heirs and their estates tangled up in years of costly and unnecessary legal battles.
Money aside, the fights that ensue for a loved one’s estate can be messy and scarring. A lack of proper planning can leave family ties permanently severed, especially for those battling over a significant amount of assets.
Leaving this world with a proper will in place is a final and important gift you can give your loved ones. It avoids long legal battles, exorbitant fees, and unnecessary headaches - all things no grieving family wants to confront.
If you haven’t already, talk with your financial professional about the future of your estate. They may be able to help you directly or refer you to an estate attorney who can begin the drafting process.
For more on this topic, take a look at our August 27, 2020 blog titled A Guide to Trusts for Estate Planning.
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