Get A Will!

Last month, rock star Prince Rogers Nelson, known to us simply as “Prince,” died without a will, or in legal terms, intestate.  Prince was not known simply for his extraordinary musical and artistic skills, but also for his extraordinary insight as a businessman in the music and entertainment industry.  Thus, it is stunning that, without a will, he leaves his financial affairs in shambles.

Prince’s death without a will highlights a significant problem nationwide.  A recent survey reveals that 64% of Americans do not have a will.  That poses at least three significant problems.  First, the Court, rather than the decent, will decide who inherits the property of the estate.  Second, if there are minor children, the Court will appoint their guardian, rather than the decedent.  Third, depending on the value of the estate, and where the decedent lived, needless taxes, known as estate (or “death”) taxes, may be paid to the federal and state governments.  Under Minnesota law, Prince’s estate will likely be divided evenly among his six siblings, and a special administrator, has been appointed by the court to manage his estate.  The Court-appointed special administrator will be a person who has had no prior relationship with the decedent, and does not know anything about the decedent’s wishes.

Under New York law, if you die without a will, the Court is required to distribute your estate as follows:

If the Decedent has…


a spouse (husband or wife) and no children the spouse inherits everything
children but no spouse children inherit everything
spouse and children the spouse inherits the first $50,000 plus half of the balance. The children inherit everything else.
parents but no spouse and no children the parents inherit everything
siblings (brothers or sisters) but no spouse, children, or parents the siblings inherit everything equally

If you are comfortable with this default plan, you do not need a will.  By contrast, if you wish to tailor the statutory / default plan to your own circumstances and preferences, then a will is essential.

Many people who do not have a will avoid the subject because the discussion of their death is uncomfortable or they fear that making a will somehow will accelerate their death.  Neither excuse is a sound reason to leave your estate in chaos due to a lack of planning.

As a distinct but related point, the New York State Department of Health advises everyone over the age of 18 needs to appoint a health care agent.  A simple power of attorney or health care proxy document could save money and property for those in that person’s family who really need it, but only if that person’s wishes are memorialized in those documents before the worst happens.

Having a plan is always a good idea.  Having a Court decide who gets the fruit of your lifelong labor, who cares for your children, or who makes vital healthcare decisions for you when you can no longer speak for yourself is a poor default option.  Do not procrastinate.  Please let us know if we can help you and your family with your estate planning.

With 22 years of big city experience and small town service, the Law Office of Todd J. Krouner is well-equipped to handle most estate plans.  A boutique law firm which prides itself on client service and commitment to excellence, our office provides a personal touch that can only be maintained by a small but dedicated staff.  Our personal service is essential given that most people are not familiar with the court system and must rely on their lawyer to properly advise and represent them.  We invite you to contact us at (914) 238-5800 or by e-mail at