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Without an estate plan, chaos awaits

That may seem an overstatement, but as we pass the one year anniversary of the musician Prince's death from an accidental overdose, the trials and tribulations of his estate administration serve as yet one more reminder that it can never be too early to create an estate plan.

Prince was 57 at his death, and likely assumed he had many years to live. While notoriously private and protective of his legacy, that mindset combined with the perceived unlikelihood of his dying at his age has produced a disaster for his potential heirs. The estate is far from settled and lawsuits have already broken out. In a situation like this, the estate assets will be paying for much of the litigation, which means the longer litigation drags on, the fewer assets available to the heirs.

While an estate plan cannot ensure there will be no litigation, especially when it involves significant assets, the lack of a comprehensive plan virtually guarantees that disputes will develop as a probate court attempts to sort out potential heirs and manage the estate.

The lack of any advance planning also means Price's estate will pay a substantial Estate Tax bill to both the state and federal governments. Much of that tax bill could have been avoided by the use of trusts and other instruments.

While most individuals won't have $300 million plus in assets to deal with, an estate plan for any size estate can help to make the distribution of assets comparatively straightforward and eliminate much of the uncertainty that Prince's potential heirs face.

If you own a business, it is essential that you have proper estate and succession planning in place, and preferably at a reasonably young age, as recreational accidents, vehicle crashes, health problems, and other unexpected events can lead to a sudden death. 

If you have a strong desire to see the business you spent a lifetime building continue or simply want to ensure that your family's legacy is protected on your passing, a comprehensive estate plan is necessary. 

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