New Yorkers who are debating whether or not they need a comprehensive or even a basic estate plan should pay attention to the news and stories of prominent people who choose not to formulate these documents. It is frighteningly common for people of significant means to fail in estate planning and leave many questions for family members and potential heirs after they have died. One recent case in which estate planning and probate has come to the forefront is with the death of singer Aretha Franklin.

According to reports, Ms. Franklin did not create any documents to detail how her estate was to be handled at the time of her death. There was no will, nor was there a trust. She had four sons and they have filed to be labeled as interested parties to her estate. When she died in mid-August at 76, this information came to light. Her niece filed to be appointed as her personal representative. Since she died intestate – without a will – state law in Michigan, where she resided, says the estate will be divided among her children.

Ms. Franklin’s entertainment attorney stated that he encouraged her to create a trust, but she failed to do so. While the initial information suggests that there have not been family disputes about the estate, when there are significant assets and multiple parties seeking to receive a portion of it, it can lead to disagreements and extended court battles.

For people who are unsure that their financial situation warrants an estate plan, it is important to remember that everyone has items that they want to leave to their heirs. Others have young children who need to be protected in the event of the person’s death. This is true whether it is a wealthy person, a middle-class person, or someone who has limited assets. Motor vehicles, homes, items of sentimental value, retirement accounts and more should be listed in an estate plan. A legal professional experienced in wills and trusts can explain the details and emphasize the importance of estate planning and probate and assist in crafting a plan to avoid issues after the person’s death.