When California residents die without a will or trust, their estate is distributed according to California's intestacy laws, without regard to whatever wishes the decedent may have had. If the decedent left a substantial estate, there is also a significant risk of litigation among surviving family members and would-be heirs.
We reported in a post earlier this year that when famous artist Prince died, he apparently left no will. No will has since been found, his wealth -- said to be about $300 million -- will be distributed according to the intestacy laws of his home state of Minnesota.
Under state intestacy laws, including that of California, an estate is distributed to relatives according to priorities in the statute. Since Prince's death, a number of people have come forward claiming to be related to him. Recently, a judge in Minnesota ruled that two of those claimants did not qualify as heirs.
The two claimants, a woman and her niece, are a daughter and granddaughter of a deceased man Prince allegedly referred to as his brother. Prince's father allegedly considered the man a son. There was no genetic relation between Prince and the man, however, and no legal adoption of the man by Prince's father. The judge ruled there was no legal authority to consider the two women as heirs.
Given the size of Prince's estate, an appeal of the judge's ruling to the Minnesota Court of Appeals seems likely. Whoever loses that appeal will likely appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court. The appeals could easily take several years and cost the estate a great deal of money.
It's a theme this blog has returned to time and again -- people who want to avoid leaving a legal mess like this for their loved ones, should prepare a will or trust that clearly states how their estate should be distributed when they die. For most people the estate planning process is not complicated, and will cost far less than the litigation that might result in the absence of an estate plan.
Source: Forbes, "Let's Go Crazy: Prince Estate Entering New Battle Over Who Will Inherit His Millions," Danielle & Andy Mayoras, Oct. 24, 2016