Many people do not create an estate plan or do not consider all of the ramifications of their actions. This may be because they never get around to doing it or they don’t believe their estate is big enough to require a plan.

The easiest place to start is getting a will drafted by an attorney. If an individual does not complete a will, upon death, the state will decide how to distribute that person’s assets. The outcome may very well be different than want that individual intended.

If you have an older will that has not been updated, it could produce undesirable results. The death of a person named as a beneficiary, births within the family or a divorce may change your thinking.

Items such as an insurance policy, an annuity or a 401(k) – where there is a designated beneficiary – trumps the will. That means if your will says everything is split 50/50 between your two children, and the insurance policy says you daughter gets 100 percent, she gets all of the policy money.

You also may want a power of attorney to allow someone to make financial and health decisions for you when you cannot. Powers of attorney end upon death. A living will might give guidance about your views on life-sustaining medical procedures.

Assets that pass by beneficiary designations do not go through probate. Things distributed through a will do. Probate takes time to complete, incur expenses that might be 5 to 7 percent and are public record. This means someone could go to the courthouse and look up information.

One way to avoid probate may be to use a living will. There are various trusts that might be used for specific issues. For example, if you will be leaving a large amount of money to someone who has a spending or drug problem, you might use a spendthrift trust. This would allow them to get some of the money in small quantities over a long period.

You might think that rich and famous people would have great estate plans because they have money to afford the best advice. Often, this is not true.

When Prince died on April 21, 2016, he left an estate estimated at $200 million. He did not have a will. One year later, the estate had to pay $100 million in estate taxes. The remainder was paid to six siblings, according to state law. This may not have been how Prince wanted his estate paid out.

When Jim Morrison of the Doors died in 1971 at age 27, he left everything to his girlfriend, Pamela Courson. There was a stipulation that if she died within the first three months, the estate would be split between Morrison’s brother and sister.

Courson lived another three years, but never saw much money because the estate was tied up in probate court. When she died without a will, Morrison’s money went to two sets of parents – not where he wanted it to go.

There was a famous father who was very successful in his career. His equally famous son also was a key player in the business. The father left control of his business to his third wife. There was a lot of conflict between the son and third wife. The son had limited use of his own name. The father’s estate was a mess.

That was Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

Make sure you have the necessary documents in place to make sure your assets are distributed as you want.

Gary Boatman is a Monessen-based certified financial planner. He is author of “Your Financial Compass: Safe passage through the turbulent waters of taxes, income planning and market volatility.”

To submit columns on financial planning or investing, email Rick Shrum at

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