Who Needs a Will?

Singer Prince died of a drug overdose in 2016 and did not leave a will. A six-year legal battle involving his $156.4 million estate recently settled, leaving his fortune and catalogue of songs split between a New York music company and three of his six heirs.

The legal battle surrounding Prince’s estate serves as a reminder of the importance of creating a will. Although few people have estates the size of Prince’s, almost everyone could benefit from a will or an estate plan of some sort. What exactly is a will?

According to Michigan law, a will is a document that appoints a personal representative. A will can also be:

  • A document that revokes or revises another will;
  • A document that nominates a guardian; or
  • A document that expressly excludes or limits the right of an heir to inherit the decedent's property.

A will explains what the testator (the person who made the will) wants to have done with his or her property following his or her death. Not every document expressing a testator's wishes is a will, though. While the document does not need to be in a particular format, it does need to be:

  • In writing;
  • Signed by the testator or, at the direction of the testator, signed on the testator's behalf in the testator's conscious presence; and
  • Signed by at least two individuals within a reasonable amount of time of witnessing the signing of either the will or the testator's acknowledgment of that signature or the will.

Michigan also recognizes a handwritten (holographic) will as valid. In this case, the will may not be signed by witnesses but must be dated, signed by the testator and, for important provisions especially, in the testator's handwriting.

Laws change all the time, of course, but a will is valid at the time of the testator's death if it would have been valid on the date it was executed. Michigan will also recognize a will that was executed properly under the laws of another state or country if the testator owned a home there or lived there.

A will may include a codicil -- that is, a legally executed document that revokes or amends part of the will. And, finally, a will may incorporate a separate writing by reference. For example, Prince’s will, if he had created one, could have stated that his music collection be distributed to a record company.

Help is available

Although very few people have estates the size of Prince’s, everyone, regardless of their income or assets, should have a will or estate plan in place. To speak to an estate planning attorney, please call 586-726-1000 or visit our website at www.orlaw.com.