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Winehouse's lack of will a reminder of the importance of estate planning

Our Bergen County readers may remember the news which came last July of the death of English singer and songwriter Amy Winehouse, who tragically died of alcohol poisoning. According to recently released probate records, Winehouse had about 4.6 million in U.S. dollars to her name, after taxes. Winehouse, it has been revealed, died without a will, and consequently her entire estate will be going to her parents.

U.K. law, as well as every state in the United States, provides specific rules for the disposition of property for a person who dies without a will. The statutes governing this disposition are known as "intestacy" statutes, and they provide a detailed list of how to divide up property in the absence of estate planning documents.

Winehouse was both unmarried and had no children at the time of her death. A typical rule in intestacy statutes is to distribute the property of an unmarried adult without children to their surviving parents. If neither parent is living, the estate is typically distributed to living siblings in equal shares. Winehouse's one brother will receive nothing of her estate.

Intestacy statutes are an excellent study in one of the important reasons for drafting one's own estate planning documents. Because intestacy statutes are drafted with the average person in mind, they are often do not fit the average person well. After all, who is perfectly average?

In the case of Amy Winehouse, it isn't clear whether the intestacy statute represented how she would have chosen to distribute her estate. In all likelihood, though, it is not.

In drafting one's own will, one is able to determine exactly how their assets will be distributed. On top of that, estate planning provides important opportunities to achieve tax savings, maximize one's use of tax exemption amounts, give to favorite charities in a smart way, leave money to children in a way that best serves them, and to address a number of other concerns.

Of course, for some people estate planning will be complicated, but for others, it does not have to be so. In any case, a little planning can go a long way in ensuring the best disposition of one's assets.

Source: Reuters, "Amy Winehouse's $4.6M Estate Goes to Her Parents," Stephanie Rabiner, March 29, 2012.

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