For a public figure, death can be relatively private, or it can be very public indeed. William Shakespeare left a Last Will and Testament. As a result, his death was very public. In fact, even 400 years after the bard’s death, his LWT is available for all to see. It is available on the internet here, on a medium it is unlikely Shakespeare ever imagined. Because of the public nature of his wishes, we know that he left his wife only his “second best bed.” Many have speculated regarding the significance of his leaving only his second best bed to his spouse. Regardless of his intent in leaving his wife his second best bed, it is doubtful he ever wished all the world to know he wanted his wife to get that bed. (It should be noted that a spouse in England at that time would have had a right to the equivalent of today’s elective share in common law states. As a result, he may just have been adding to the traditional share out of fondness for the time they spent in that second best bed.)
Prince Rogers Nelson, the musician formerly known as “the artist formerly known as Prince,” died last week. It is unclear at this time whether the Grammy-winning musician left any estate plan. If he left a plan that has a Last Will and Testament as its cornerstone, his wishes will be as public as William Shakespeare’s plan of 400 years ago. Instead, if he left a plan that has a Revocable Trust as its cornerstone, then his wishes may be shielded from public scrutiny.
At this point, many are speculating that Prince may have left no plan at all. If that is the case, his assets (estimated at $300 million) will go to his nearest blood relatives pursuant to Minnesota intestacy statutes. As he was unmarried and had no living children or other descendants or ancestors, it likely means it would go to his siblings, nieces, and nephews. Regardless, it would be a very public process in which his family would face intense public scrutiny.
It’s not clear whether William Shakespeare had options to shield his spouse and others form the public nature of a Last Will and Testament. However, today it is clear that Prince could have chosen to leave an estate plan which kept his assets and his family out of the public eye.
With planning, Prince also could have lessened the federal and Minnesota estate tax burden which will be borne by his estate. If his estate is $300 million, he could owe nearly half of that in state and federal estate tax. A little planning could have saved millions of dollars in tax and protected the privacy of his family and his wishes.
Stephen C. Hartnett, J.D., LL.M.
Associate Director of Education
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
9444 Balboa Avenue, Suite 300
San Diego, California 92123
Phone: (800) 846-1555