I was very saddened to hear of the passing of the American singer and songwriter Aretha Franklin on August 16th. She was indeed the Queen of Soul, but to me she was so much more than that. She embodied strength, class and courage and was a role model to so many marginalized minority women in North America.

At the time of her death, it’s estimated that Aretha’s net worth was $80 million. So imagine my shock when I learned she did not have a will. Why would a savvy artist and business women such as her not have taken a few hours to draft her wishes with the help of her lawyer of how she wants her estate distributed? Why leave that to the mercy of the courts?

She is not the first wealthy celebrity to not have a will, nor will she be the last. In fact, more than 60% of Americans and Canadians do not have one. And some 50% of Hong Kongers don’t either.

The thing is, having a will is not just for the wealthy. If you have financial assets, no matter the size; if you care who gets your money; and if you care about who will take care of your minor children should something unforeseen happen to you – get on it and create a will!

You may say you it’s not urgent to do so. Untimely deaths happen. That’s a fact of life. Do you want to leave your legacy and children’s well-being in the court’s hands just in case? They will follow a law or formula. They will not know your wishes and the reasons behind them. Only you know that.

You may say the thought of creating a will depresses you. Many people tell me that the process of creating a will forces them to think about the inevitable and they don’t want to. You can’t escape death, but hopefully you have many healthy years ahead of you before that happens. Having a will doesn’t mean death tomorrow. But it does give you control over your hard-earned wealth. You decide how, to who, and why.

You may say that a will is costly. A will is relatively easy to produce and inexpensive in most cases. There are also some very affordable software programs to help you in creating a will, trust, power of attorneys etc. If the thought of doing this is daunting, or if your estate is more complicated, hire an estate lawyer. The benefits will far outweigh the “costs” which could be a lengthy and expensive process.

Aside from executing on your wishes, here are other important reasons to create a will:

 

  • You will save your family from undue stress. They will already be grieving your loss and will bear an emotional toll. Having to sort out your estate without direction is a great burden that eats up a lot of energy, time and possibly money. A will makes it easier for them, and the executor to sort things out.
  • You’ll save fees. Depending on where you are, without a will, administrators and courts step in to sort things out which they will charge for. You may be able to avoid some probate fees as well if done correctly.
  • You protect your children. It’s incredibly important if you have minor children or anyone else who financially depends on you. Without a will, you’re not guaranteed they will be looked after in the way you had hoped.
  • You provide clarity to extended and 2nd families. t’s equally important if you’re in a second marriage and there are step-children or children from a second marriage. The lines as to who is entitled to what is not always clear. Again, without a will the courts will decide, not you.
  • It can greatly reduce tension between family members. The fact is not everyone views money the same. There may be some who feel they’re entitled to a greater share or to a certain aspect of your estate, leading to drawn out fights and possible lawsuits. I’ve seen families break apart because of this. If you love your family, be clear on how you’re dividing your assets and explain why.

Here are some other considerations:

  • Once you’ve created a will, review it periodically to ensure it still reflects your circumstances and wishes. The latest version is the one that will apply.
  • Be sure to safely store the latest version and tell someone you trust where to find it.
  • Along with a will, it’s likely you may need Power of Attorneys, or a trust set up which have their own benefits. Speak to a lawyer or financial planner to find out if these make sense for you.
  • If you are an expatriate or hold assets in different jurisdictions, you may have to have separate wills for each place as the laws are different.

The Queen of Soul gave her fans an incredible gift through her music and words of empowerment. Even in her death, inadvertedly she’s teaching us women a valuable lesson in financial planning. My wish is that the division of her estate is resolved amicably and swiftly. My experience tells me otherwise. I truly hope I’m wrong.

R.I.P Aretha. R-E-S-P-E-C-T.