At first, when I heard Prince didn’t have a will, I was sad.
After all, the iconic singer, whose full name was Prince Rogers Nelson, was ferociously protective of his music and his image. He once wrote “slave” on his face to protest a music deal that left him without ownership of his work. During the dispute, you’ll recall, we had to refer to him as “the Artist Formerly Known as Prince.” I came to respect the symbol that he used as his name for a while because he was fighting for his legacy.
Prince patrolled the Internet for unauthorized use of his music and some reports said he rejected offers to use his songs to sell products. He was all about control.
And now, following his death at age 57, the control he fought so hard for may be gone.
According to court documents filed by his sister, Prince left no instructions on how to handle his assets, including his published music and enough unpublished work that reportedly an album a year could be released for decades.
I’m having trouble connecting the dots of why Prince wouldn’t have had a will. He was so private that we’re only hearing hearsay about how this could have happened. But to borrow from one of his most famous songs, “When Doves Cry,” how could he just leave his family and fans standing? “Alone in a world that’s so cold” — so commercialized.
Court-appointed representatives might not share his visions for use of his music. And how could they, if Prince didn’t leave any directives?
Will his song “Let’s Go Crazy” ironically define the insipid commercialization of his music? “Kiss” used to sell chocolate? Or “U Got The Look” for a clothing company?
Ironically, in just a few weeks, my mother’s estate will finally be closed. Her assets will be distributed perhaps not as she may have wanted, but that’s what happens when you don’t take the time or spend the money to have your own will created.
Whenever I discuss estate planning, I ask the crowd to guess the percentage of people who die without a will.
It’s a trick question.
They guess what surveys typically find, which is that the majority of folks don’t have a “written” will.
The fact is, everyone has a will in a sense. It’s just not one you’ve prepared personally. In legal terms, if you die “intestate,” your state’s intestacy laws dictate how your assets will be distributed.
The more I see what happens when people don’t plan for death, the more jaded I get. Why should I care if your legacy is lost or exploited? You didn’t seem to care.
People give all kinds of reasons for not having a will. They can’t think of dying. They can’t agree on who should take care of their children. It costs too much.
But here’s the bottom line: If you don’t have a will, you are being selfish and irresponsible. I know. I’m being harsh. And I mean to be.
All the reasons you tell yourself for not having a will drawn up are about you. But get over your misgivings and stop procrastinating. This isn’t just about you.
You will die someday. If you have dependent children, somebody has to take care of them. The money you think you’re saving by not getting a will — or at least shelling out for a do-it-yourself kit — could be spent hiring lawyers to sort out the mess you leave behind. And it will cost considerably more than it would have to professionally prepare a will.
Without your own will, you are being fiscally irresponsible. You worked hard to get whatever you have, so protect it from folks who will waste your money.
Protect the people you treasure from the relatives you know cause trouble. You invite fighting and hard feelings when you don’t do some estate planning. Is that the legacy you want to leave?
“When Doves Cry” can describe what often happens when there’s no will — siblings screaming at each other. “This is what it sounds like when doves cry.”
Old and deep wounds tend to surface when money comes into play. Accusations fly. Lies are told. Lawyers are hired. And before you know it, the court is trying to sort out your affairs.
In another of his hit songs, “Purple Rain,” Prince opens by saying, “I never meant to cause you any sorrow. I never meant to cause you any pain.”
Well, what do you expect will happen when you die not having taken care of your business?
Your love song to your family should be your own will.
Write Singletary at The Washington Post, 1301 K St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To read more, go to http://wapo.st/michelle-singletary.